Books: Cinderella Man, the Novel

(Image / Harper Entertainment)

In 8th grade, I got the okay to read a novelization of the movie Alien for a book report. It was literary free pizza: an easy read, about aliens, and no scholarly (or otherwise) interpretations around it that might prove my resultant book report off the mark. We’d just been required to read A Catcher in the Rye and after turning in my thoughts on the book I was told, essentially, I didn’t ‘get it.’

I was pretty certain I’d ‘get’ Alien and if I didn’t my teacher sure wouldn’t know the difference. I wasn’t allowed to see the movie, it was rated ‘R’, so instead read the de-profanitized Scholastic Book Club version. It was good, at least to a 13-year-old in 1979 fairly pleased at having slipped one past his teacher. Ever since that book I’ve had a weak spot for finding out if a novelization of a movie can be good, or at a minimum not terrible. A novel based on a movie, rather than the opposite, has a certain ‘Man-Bites-Dog’ appeal. I’ve found several excellent ones.

Which gets us to Marc Cerasini’s Cinderella Man based on the 2005 boxing movie of the same name. While readying for the recent arrival of Hurricane Sandy in Maryland, I shifted some books around in my basement and found the novel, unread, from seven years ago.

The story, most will know, is of Jersey Jim Braddock, a Depression-era boxing champ who, like Cinderella, went from poverty to good fortune despite longish odds. The movie from which the book is derived is terrific, and fortunately for novelizations, there’s not much in the way of expectations laid upon them to follow suit if a film is good; they’re simply part of the merchandise line.

But to my mild surprise Cerasini’s book was good. Aspects were excellent, as the author works in much of the real Braddock’s life story, information that a viewer wouldn’t gather from seeing the film. He also structures it well, layering in plenty of quotes on Braddock (“He is a great fellow, and he has a great story.” – Damon Runyon) and adding a epilogue that tells much of what happened to Braddock after the time period captured by the movie. This was all probably harder to do well than it sounds, and Cerasini deserves credit for the effort. At other times the descriptive sequences read like such, rather than simply fading into the background of a plot line moving down its path.

On the balance, the book is a worthwhile read, as Braddock is a man worth knowing about, and Cerasini’s version an entertaining road to meeting him. – TF