Leonard Gardner's "Fat City," like Frederick Exley's "A Fan's Notes," is one of those novels that raises intense enthusiasm among book lovers. For years, when I met a fellow writing aficionado at a party, we would soon mention "Fat City" as a shared talisman.
Published in 1969, "Fat City" finds beauty in the milieu of failed boxers hanging on in Stockton, Calif.'s gritty downtown. The book, recently republished by the excellent New York Review of Books Press, is one of those American classics of alcoholism, wasted dreams and macho self-delusion.
Gardner, at age 83, and writer Karen Schoemer recently revisited the setting of Gardener's only novel, finding that many of the scenes that he described with Hemingway-like precision have vanished. Schoemer's captivating account of their Stockton tour was published in the travel section of Sunday's New York Times.
Schoemer contrasts the changes that have occurred in Stockton with passages from "Fat City," which was made into a 1972 movie directed by John Huston and starring Stacy Keach and the young Jeff Bridges.
The article demonstrates how literature possesses a truth that outlasts the passing of time. The final scene shows Gardner and Schoemer returning to the hotel basement where the novel's boxing gym was located. Although they find the basement now empty, the gym still exists in Gardner's mind, and in the imagination of Gardner's readers.