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Cockfighter [Paperback]

Charles Willeford
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Jun 2005
The sport is cockfighting and Frank Mansfield is the cockfighter - a silent and fiercely contrary man whose obsession with winning will cost him almost everything. In this haunting, ribald, and percussively violent work, the author of Hoke Moseley detective novels yields a floodlit vision of the cockpits and criminal underbelly of the rural south. First published in 1962 by Charles Willeford, later made into a Roger Corman film.

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Cockfighter + Nightmare Alley (New York Review Books) + Diary Of A Mad Old Man (Vintage Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: (1 Jun 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596542225
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596542228
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 588,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A hobo at age 16, then a decorated WW2 marine, then a teacher of literature, Willeford had two careers as a writer - in the 50's & 60's, with the hardboiled pulp in the style of Jim Thompson and then in the eighties with the four superb Hoke Moseley novels. The first of these - Miami Blues - was made into a film starring William Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Fred Ward, and Woman Chaser is soon to be a major movie starring William Warburton.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful mature read 13 Nov 2012
This had been recommended to me on several occasions,I hesitated due to the subject matter. I gave in and was enthralled by the insight into one mans struggle to follow his dream.
The writing is fabulously detailed without ever being pedantic. The characters are beautifully observed and plausible. Willeford goes into great detail describing the mechanics and code of honour within the sport (only once giving gory details). Our modern tastes may find the idea of gambling on the outcome of animal suffering abhorrent, but he is letting the reader into a world gone bye and he does it with great skill and sensitivity. So much of the narrative goes to describing his single minded desire to be the best cockfighter in the league and his relationships have to form around that purpose.The main character is down on his luck and picks himself up, his goal would seem trivial to many, but to him it is everything. I could go on and on , but that would say too much about the plot. Buy this book and go on that journey with him. I found it a great read and almost impossible to fault. A tour de force of modern writing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Champion! 30 July 2013
Books like Cockfighter remind me of how I came to love literature in the first place. It offers a wonderful sense of being transported to an entirely different place, seeing the world through the eyes of others and then ensuring that I'm so captivated by a series of events that all I want to do in life at a given moment (well, most given moments) is return to the next page.

The quote at the beginning of the book is from Ezra Pound - "What matters is not the idea a man holds, but the depth at which he holds it." There's plenty of depth in evidence here as protagonist Frank takes the reader into the life of a serious cockfighter.

Frank is such a passionate man that he's vowed, unbeknownst to anyone else, to remain silent until he gains the coveted mark of respect that is the silver medal that marks someone out as the cock handler of the year (sniggers really don't fit on this occasion!). He explains himself a little here:

`No one, other than myself, knew about my vow, and I could have broken it at any time without losing face. But I would know, and I had to shave every day."

That last phrase is the kind of poetic turn that give the story an extra edge - Willeford allows his character to tell his tale without relying on the mundane.

When we meet Frank, he's on the cusp of losing everything - his money, his last fighting bird, his car and his trailer home - on one fight with an old adversary. It's a hugely dramatic opening and, at risk of spoiling that drama (look away now) it ends up with Frank leaving the pit with only $10, a coop, a few clothes and a guitar.

Given a lift by an old friend who has been forced to retire, he's offered the chance to buy the perfect bird, Icarus, for the hugely inflated sum of $500.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Adolescent 13 Sep 2012
Having been recommended to Charles Willaford by a very well read and reputable bookseller, I pleasurably during my holiday, worked through all the detective Hoke Moselely genre that had three dimensional characters, well contrived plots and in some way, an intersting insight to the American felons day to day life, and immediate gratification mindset. It was with upbeat anticipation therefore, that I picked up Cockfighter. After a 100 pages in, it was becoming hard work, and I felt that the book could almost be by a different writer, simplistic in its sentence structure, laboured in plot development, and its principal character adolescent and lacking in substance. It was very obviously using the skeleton of Homers Odyssey upon which to hang the flesh of a more modern story upon - trying hard to be clever and failing dismally. I didn't enjoy it, and wouldn't really commend it any of my friends, which I had done with Willafords other books.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cockfighter is the Moby Dick of cockfighting. 12 Jun 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Every once in a while we realize, as a former professor once told me, that the perfect destroys the good. Cockfighter is not perfect, nor does it attempt to be. Willeford, as in all his other novels, dissects a slice of blood and guts Americana, without apologies and with no holds barred. The story of a man who chooses to remain silent until he redeems his status as a champion cockfighter is as unusual as it is simple. Like Moby Dick we learn all or too much of what we wanted to know about the subject. But if you want to take a trip to the redneck South of fifty years ago and get all dusty and sweaty and drunk and maybe killed--and still be home for dinner, then you'll find this book will do the job. More importantly, Willeford knows people and knows how to paint them so you'll never forget them or the sport they so ritualistically followed. If you, like many of us also have a visual need, find the video of the movie. In it, with a small part by the author, you'll get a complete picture of this unique aspect of our culture.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing fictional look into a colorful subculture 28 April 2000
By "elljay" - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
You can't really relate to another man's (or woman's) obsession, but "Cockfighter" does a impressive job of drawing the reader into the psyche of Frank Mansfield, the single-minded hero of this pretty intense novel. Frank's goal in life is to win the Cockfighter of the Year award, and he's taken a vow not to speak another word until he does so. In relating silent Frank's journey, the author takes us on a memorable trip through the cockfighting pits of the Southern U.S. and allows us a close-up look at the rugged, obsessive, fiercely individualistic types who haunt them. You will learn from this novel virtually everything you could conceivably wish to know about cockfighting; the details feel absolutely authentic. Above all, though, it's a convincing portrait of a man driven half-mad by his private demons.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still haven't recovered 8 Mar 2000
By Clara M Pettitt - Published on
I read it years ago and I still haven't recovered. When you are through, you will understand how gambling becomes insanity, its rituals imposing a twisted order on full blown psychosis. As a work of first person narrative, it's breathtaking. The other books by the same author will not prepare you for the intensity of this story. If Jim Thompson is too dark for you, don't read this: you will be jumping right out of the window.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars one man's obsession with cockfighting... 14 Jan 2003
By lazza - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Before reading 'Cockfighter' I knew nothing of cockfighting. Now I know more than I thought possible, which I guess is a good thing. :-) Thankfully Charles Willeford's cockfighting education manual is actually a darn good read.
Cockfighting is gruesome, and Willeford does not sanitize the sport in any way. In a rather balanced way he describes cockfighting and cockfighters. The main character in this novel is obsessed in winning the 'super bowl' of cockfighting. He lives for cockfighting. Quite honestly, it's a rather depressing existence. Thankfully Willeford's attention to detail rises just above the boredom level. And the ending is very exciting indeed.
Bottom line: certainly not a book for everyone. Yet it's compassion to this nasty blood sport should be lauded.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating 13 Mar 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is a very solid book and, to be perfectly honest, I know of no other book on this subject. Oh, sure, Charles, by the time he wrote this was so wrapped up in being a genre writer, it reads like any mid-level hard-boiled crime book. Fortunately that is a style that appeals to me, so no complaints there. But the heart of the story, which, no doubt, required quite a bit of research, is about a man who chooses to be silent until he regains a lost fortune and a lost reputation. Once, he was one of the top cock-handlers around, a ruthless, compulsive man who fell upon hard times and lost everything when his chicken fell short of expectation. But the scenes in the pit are horrific. Gruesome, bloody, gut-churning, one must imagine it is a very accurate depiction of this faded into history form of gambling. Let us not mourn the passing of the great cock-fighting circut because, well, hell, it is an inately cruel and savage spectacle, much like an old-fashioned bare-knuckle brawl to the death. But there is a lot of America in this novel, a harsh, gruesome, desperate side that thumps at night and makes one wonder how far they would go to defend their honor. El Matador in the third pairing, bet on it. If interested, head down to Mexico and ask around the bull ring where you might be able to find a good cockfight. Take a gun because, you're at a cockfight in Mexico and you look like a victim.
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