CM . . . . Volume XX Number 3 . . . . September 20, 2013
The Manager is a crazy road-trip story about a girl who knows she can manage a boxer and a boxer who might have what it takes to make it big. Tina is the main character of The Manager, but the story is narrated by her younger sister, Ellie, who is protective of and exasperated by and mystified by her boxing-mad, headstrong, resentful sister. Tina is an achondroplastic dwarf, and she is angry about it. "And hers was not a feeble little stick-out-your-tongue sort of resentment, but a deep-seated, I'll-make-you-and-everyone-I-know-miserable-because-I'm-miserable kind of bitterness."
Tina wants nothing more than to be noticed by their father who runs a boxing gym in Antigonish. She knows everything there is to know about boxing and helps train the young men who are hoping to fight professionally. The boxing gym needs to train a champion in order to succeed financially, but Tina doesn't think much of Ryan, the contender her father is banking on.
An opportunity arises for Tina to go to Boston to have a brutal medical procedure that she hopes can make her taller. Ellie tries to talk her out of it, but Tina has been saving money for years for this procedure and is determined to go through with it. On the way to Boston, they stop at a friend of a friend's where they meet the very good-looking Jesse Mankiller and his manager, Paul. They go to Jesse's fight in Halifax where Paul suffers a heart attack. Tina is impressed with Jesse's skill and convinces him that he should continue his scheduled fights-which end up at Boston-with her as his manager.
Jesse, Tina and Ellie head out on the road to Boston. They run into some scary Irish mobsters and an eccentric family of hillbillies. Jesse has family troubles that make him turn around to go home. Through it all, Tina remains determined and focused on her goal. When Jesse finally makes it to the championship fight in Boston, his opponent is Ryan, Tina's father's boxer. Jesse cares enough for Tina that he is willing to throw the fight in order to save her father's gym, but Tina comes up with a better idea: Jesse wins the fight and makes her father his permanent manager. The validation of winning the fight, saving her father's gym, and getting the guy makes Tina decide not to go ahead with the medical procedure.
The Manager is, by turns, heartbreakingly tender and slapstick funny. Tina and Jesse are both powerful characters, entertaining and compelling to watch as they passionately fight the cards life has dealt them. Ellie's compassionate but opinionated voice is the perfect way for readers to enjoy the humour in the situations the characters get themselves into while still allowing readers to care deeply about both of them.
Stellings' writing is vivid and fast-paced, the plot full of unexpected turns with a satisfying denouement. She deftly evokes the 1979 rural east-coast setting and convincingly recreates the bloody, smelly world of boxing.
The Manager will definitely appeal to boxing fans, but it has a much wider audience. Anyone who appreciates Susan Juby's quirky brand of humour will want to try Caroline Stellings, and readers who like strong characters and interesting character studies will want to meet Tina MacKenzie.
Kim Aippersbach, a writer, editor, and mother of three, lives in Vancouver, BC.
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