Review: With Undercard, David Albertyn masters the sweet science of storytelling
Boxing is known as the sweet science, and for good reason. Ask anyone whose life revolves around the sport, and they will talk your ear off about it: the nuance, the technique, the mentality that surrounds the sport, the history, and the stories that highlight grit, integrity, and heart.
Those stories are built around dreams drenched in Americana, as well as tales from around the globe that centre on perseverance, and overcoming gargantuan odds.
In this corner, coming in a 336 pages, Undercard by Toronto-based author David Albertyn perfectly encapsulates the aforementioned qualities that make a great story. His debut title, set in Las Vegas, has all the makings of the boxing stories that the world has been encapsulated by since the 1930’s.
As a sport, boxing is as psychologically demanding as it is physically. With that in mind, it becomes more obvious how a story set in Las Vegas following the trials and tribulations of a spirited protagonist can be such an absolute thrill to read.
Colourfully descriptive with a charm that persists throughout, Undercard brings new life to a genre of storytelling that’s popularity has seen peaks and valleys. From cinematic classics like Rocky, epics like Dempsey, and contemporary flicks like CREED 2, Undercard has a clear and defined voice that rings pleasantly in a world where it’s too easy to hear the same old stories over again. We’ve never seen a boxing story quite like this one.
Sin City is never a bad place to start off a boxing tale. For all of its grandeur and charisma, Las Vegas as a character in this novel works well, allowing for realistic characters to thrive in a setting that suits their personalities well. But Undercard isn’t just a boxing novel; it’s a thriller, with twists and turns that will leave you breathless.
Tyron Shaw, a celebrated US Marine who had served 11 years for his country, Keenan Quinn, a controversial and potentially divisive figure in Las Vegas whose life took a turn after being acquitted in the death of a local black man, and Antoine Deco, a boxer whose name makes it on the undercard of a high profile championship bout. And, of course, nothing is quite as it seems.
With three of the main characters coming from conflict-heavy backgrounds, an edge-of-your-seat story unfolds between them. Albertyn guides us through not just the story taking place in the book, but of the thought processes and reasoning behind each character’s motives.
Little details go a long way in developing the characters. Lines like, “Tyron almost says ‘Good to be back,’ but falsehoods are distasteful to his lips, and he is not yet sure if it is good to be back” are peppered throughout the novel, giving insight into not just the situation at hand, but the true-to-life thoughts of the character themselves. Every character rings true despite the misdirection at play.
As someone who enjoys the theatre and drama that surround sport, I enjoyed Albertyn’s debut much more than I could have predicted. As a young boy, I had always admired the tales of boxing past. The tales of greats like Foreman, Dempsey, and Muhammad Ali, whose image I still boastfully display on my bedroom wall, have influenced who I am as a person.
It’s great to feel as though these stories weren’t just impactful because I was young and impressionable, but instead, because they were indeed legendary tales. When a book like Albertyn’s comes along, it reminds you why you fell in love with sport stories in the first place.
For those looking for a fun, interesting and well-written book, I recommend Undercard. Though I had initially got the book to read on a train ride from Montreal to Toronto, I found myself coming back to it to revisit how this gripping and surprising story was so expertly told.