That’s no typo in the title. Rocky wrote a book, y’all. A terrible, horrible, no good, just downright pathetic attempt at a novel.
The Carboni brothers are a trio of Italian-American clichés who live in Hell’s Kitchen in 1946. It’s difficult to refer to them as anything more than that – there’s nothing to flesh them out into real people. Victor, the baby Carboni, is a “gentle giant” – big as a house but harmless, and as dumb as a bag of beauty pageant contestants. Cosmo, the middle child, is a con artist who prides himself on his wit and clever schemes, none of which ever actually make him any money. He’s also the character most given to speaking in incredibly hackneyed New Yawk patois – “No, I ain’t been keen on that fleabag of yours, but El Suppa’s monkey haz class!” (Don’t ask about the monkey.) Lenny, the oldest Carboni, is a disabled veteran of World War II who spends his days working in a morgue and his nights drinking his pain away.
The female characters don’t fare much better than the men. There’s Annie, the dancer who dreams of being an artist but can’t seem to find her way out of the slums. There’s Bunchie (seriously), the prototypical “hooker with a heart of gold,” whom Cosmo respects as much for her advice as for her… other services. And then there’s Rose, Victor’s girlfriend, who’s more of a cipher than anything. She’s his faithful, devoted gal who dreams of one day leaving Hell’s Kitchen and moving on up… to a houseboat in New Jersey. Dream big, kids.
But I digress. Victor works as an iceman, delivering giant blocks to residents in the sweltering heat of the summer. It doesn’t pay well, and he’s not getting any closer to that dream houseboat he so desires. One night, he and his brothers are out drinking, and they run afoul of a local buncha mooks lead by Nickels Mahon. (It physically hurts to type these names. Seriously, Nickels?) Victor ends up clobbering the big thug, Frankie the Thumper. After the fight, Cosmo realizes that he has a veritable gold mine in the form of his baby brother, so he convinces him to wrestle for money down at the local club, Paradise Alley. Victor goes by the name “Kid Salami” – because he’s Italian? Or he really likes cold cuts? It’s never explained, but damn if it isn’t the dumbest name I’ve ever heard.
At first, Lenny opposes the idea of Victor wrestling, but as Victor starts on an undefeated run and the money comes rolling in, Lenny comes around and takes on the role of Victor’s manager. Cosmo, on the other hand, begins to realize what a physical toll the fighting is taking on Victor, and starts urging him to give it up. Tensions build between the brothers, and it all comes to a head at a big final match between Victor and Frankie the Thumper.
The story moves incredibly quickly. In one chapter, Cosmo is completely gung-ho about making money off his little brother. Then suddenly, he thinks it’s a bad idea. This is a guy who, at the beginning of the novel, wanted to use a dead hooker’s body to make some money by selling her “services” to drunks who wouldn’t realize they were fucking a dead body. I’m supposed to believe a louse like that would really give two shits about his brother taking a few hits to the head? Likewise, Lenny is against the idea, then all of a sudden he’s all for it and totally ignoring his little brother’s pain. And he goes from pining over his old girlfriend, Annie, to blowing her off to go screw a hooker. There’s no progression or explanation for the changes. It’s all action and dialogue, no development or discussion or anything really resembling storytelling. It’s kinda like reading a screenplay rather than a novel, only minus the technical elements. So it comes as absolutely no surprise to learn that Stallone adapted this into a movie that he directed and starred in AND for which he sang the theme song (he is a man of many hats). I have not seen the movie, but I imagine it’s pretty awful based on the original material.
My biggest question after reading the book is, “WHY?” Why bother to write a novel when he was clearly thinking the whole time about how the screenplay and thus the movie would work? I suppose he wanted the honor of being recognized as a published author. Somehow, I doubt he received the praise he sought.
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