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Friday, October 14, 2022

Review of the Unexpected Danny Green

The Unexpected Danny Green: From Mississippi to Manhattan, Harlem to Hollywood... Boxing was Just the Beginning
By Paul R. Friedman

Danny Green, the main character of Paul R. Friedman's debut novel, grows up in segregated Mississippi, moves to New York to pursue a pro boxing career, and then to Los Angeles to become an actor. Intriguingly, Friedman has written a comprehensive biography of a fictional character.

Green's somewhat Pollyannaish life is occasionally interrupted by events such as incidental run-ins with the mob and getting trapped in a hurricane while on vacation. Because it's written like a biography, there's no real story arc. The pacing speeds up during bursts of action and slows down during intimate moments of relaxation, adding depth to the story and mimicking life. As a character, Danny Green is admirable if not relatable or altogether realistic. He's stoic and heroic. He writes moving essays for the New Yorker, never fights with his wife, and knocks out criminals.

Boxing fans will appreciate The Unexpected Danny Green although there are some anachronisms. Green turns pro in 1978 and is on a non-televised portion of a Showtime card. Showtime didn't begin to broadcast boxing until 1986. HBO and ESPN are also given significance far earlier than was the case. At some point, dates within the story become blurred, but the use of endswell in Green's corner during the Julio Ramirez fight may have come just before it was invented.

Novelists, of course, are allowed to manipulate the facts to fit their narrative, but there are a couple of inconsistencies within the book's own logic. Green was 16 years old in 1974 when he took up boxing, but in 1976, we learn "A few years earlier, he had started competing in the regional Golden Gloves tournaments." Green's entire boxing career is difficult to place. He's an Olympic alternate who begins his career in a six-rounder at Madison Square Garden. But no one in the sparse crowd has heard of him, and he has to travel to his opponents' hometowns for his next several fights. Without providing spoilers, the rest of his career is curious as well.

Nevertheless, there's a lot to like about the boxing portion of the story. Green trains at Gleason's and there is a discussion of the 1976 and 1984 U.S. Olympic boxing teams. But the true strength of the book is in the description of Danny and his wife's lavish vacation spots, and in his journey as an actor. You feel like you're soaking in the scenes with the couple whether they travel to St. Thomas or Italy. Green's progression as an actor is meticulously described, from his coaching to his meetings with his agents to his time on set. It's an entertaining guide to Hollywood from a true expert.

The Unexpected Danny Green features Jewish characters and boxing, but the two rarely meet. It's a fun read about a likeable main character written in a conversational tone filled with vivid details. Though fans of Hollywood will get the most enjoyment out of the novel, there's a Jewish ethos and enough boxing for fans of The JBB, especially those interested in the late 1970s and 1980s, to make it worth a read.

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