Lenny “Trucks” Babineaux is just the flawed, dogged down-and-outer readers love in fight fiction. The hero of Jonathan Starke’s debut novel You’ve Got Something Coming will stop at nothing for a final chance to forge a respectable life with his young daughter, even when this puts their safety at considerable risk. Starke’s novel is a statement of love enduring through hard times, a gritty road story wherein the prospects often seem as bleak as the Badlands hills the pugilist and his daughter traverse.
Having lost her due to run-ins with the law and financial struggles, Trucks arrives at the state-run children’s home in the dead of night much in the same condition as the hearing aids he’s brought her: used and worn, partially broken from the many fights he’s taken over the past six months to balance out his debts. He lies, “I’ve got a gift for you outside. A really special one.” Just like that they’re off on a hitchhiking journey across open country. Trucks hopes to pick up ring work in fight-abundant, distant Nevada for the short term, though he knows his busted mind and body are nearly spent (likewise, Claudia shows clear disgust toward the trade her father, “bruiseity brains”, employs). Their travels take an unexpected turn on a harsh, snowy evening, when a kind Montanan headed home finds the imperiled duo unconscious beside the road. They awaken to find themselves far north of their intended destination and completely broke. Trucks must find a way for him and Claudia to not only achieve their desired goal of a decent life together, but to survive by whatever means he can muster.
You’ve Got Something Coming is an elevated fight tale. Trucks’s main opponents are the strain of poverty constantly threatening to drag his daughter away yet again, as well as his fading sense of identity in a sport he’s barely fit to keep engaging in, one that has only imparted mental and physical punishment. In fact, Starke’s protagonist doesn’t find his way into the ring until late in the story. Yet the author’s rendering of the sweet science is deft. Trucks’s love for boxing is as inherent to his character as a beating heart: “All those blows landed. Pah-pah-pah-pah-pah—devastation. All those blows taken. Pah-pah-pah-pah-pah—renumeration. The black eyes and the blood and the cracked bones. The movement. The breath. And then his girl. Claudia—redemption.” Much like the book’s sparse Northwestern setting (yes, Montana in winter), Starke’s take conveys the small time-seedy aspect of a dying sport, the sort of smoke-filled, dilapidated casinos that, like competent fight promoters, most authors would resist dragging their hero through. Where You’ve Got Something Coming aligns with all the best fight stories is its considerable balance of pluck and sentiment. Trucks and Claudia make a captivating and even adorable duo, a daddy-daughter matching of beauty and beast.
The story features instances where readers might expect authorities of some type to intervene, be it Child Services (given their many interactions with potentially concerned outsiders) or, as in the kidnapping at the story’s outset, the police. Yet the lack of such intrusion might in fact be Starke’s main point. Ours is a cracked society. Here is what life looks like to the ones who fall through: each day a fight that wears the mind and body. Unobtainable job postings pinned to corkboards. Gas station pancakes. Prostration to strangers cruel and kind. Perhaps Trucks says it best himself when he tells Claudia, “It’s a big spinning world of shit out there. Few people care enough about people like us to even look us in the eyes.”
Publisher: Black Heron Press
Publication Date: April 24, 2020
Reviewed by Damien Roos