From most perspectives, Billy Tully and Ernie Munger would both be considered young men, but in their world of low-level professional boxing 18-year-old Ernie is a fresh face while 29-year-old Billy is a washed-up fighter barely hanging on. After a chance meeting at the Y, Billy convinces Ernie to go see his former trainer and try to make it in the fight game.
Besides boxing, the only thing Billy and Ernie have in common is trouble with women. Billy has been miserably lonely since his divorce, which leads him to rush into an ill-considered relationship with Oma, a needy alcoholic who drives him crazy. Ernie is a horny teenager willing to pretend he’s in love so his girlfriend will let him sleep with her. Of course, she winds up pregnant and all of a sudden Ernie finds himself a teenage husband and father. At least it gives him more motivation to do well in the ring.
That’s pretty much it as far as the plot goes. Fat City is more of a mood piece than anything else. Both men struggle along at the margins of pro boxing, dealing with their lack of resources, less than helpful managers, and the risk to their bodies. However talented they may be, it’s hard for them to overcome these barriers and the ones they impose on themselves, like booze.
Though Fat City does a good job at establishing its setting, that setting is ultimately too familiar to noir fiction fans for the book to really stand out.