A Novel by Jay Neugeboren (USA)
A remarkable novel that is centered on the life of the world heavyweight champion Max Baer
When Jay Neugeboren’s first novel, Big Man, was published, James Michener called it “as good a sports novel as has ever been written.” Now, nearly a half-century later, Neugeboren is publishing MAX BAER AND THE STAR OF DAVID, his 22nd book—a remarkable novel that is centered on the life of the world heavyweight champion Max Baer. In 1933, Baer—who was one-quarter Jewish and wore a Star of David on his boxing shorts—won the best fight of his career, defeating Nazi Germany’s heavyweight champion, Max Schmeling, before a crowd of 60,000 fans. A year later, he earned the heavyweight title by defeating Primo Carnera in 1934 in front of 50,000 fans at Madison Square Garden Bowl. Baer was a flashy performer and showman who entertained America during the Great Depression. At the height of his fame, he starred in more than a dozen movies, played the vaudeville circuits, and was romantically linked to innumerable starlets, show girls, socialites and Broadway actresses.
As E. L. Doctorow did in Ragtime, in MAX BAER AND THE STAR OF DAVID Neugeboren has created fictional characters that interact with a real historical character, the boxing champion Max Baer. At the heart of this novel are two mysterious and memorable fictional creations, Max Baer’s constant companions, Horace and Joleen Littlejohn, who present themselves to the world as husband and wife, but are, in fact, brother and sister. They become best friends and sometime lovers to Max in this dazzling story about the world of boxing, and about Max’s life in and out of the ring. The narrator is Horace, and Neugeboren has given him a distinctive and compelling voice in what is, among other things, a strange and affecting interracial love story like no other, where love and violence lie down beside one another in astonishing and surprising ways.
In the past eight years, Jay Neugeboren has published seven books, three of them prize-winning novels. “Neugeboren has always been something of an innovator,” Madison Smart Bell wrote in the Boston Globe, “blending narratives so apparently disparate that their combination would seem impossible until he accomplished it. His feverish productivity in the 21st century has a whole new quality, though—a tidal wave of story ideas that flow so fast it seems almost impossible to write them all down.” In MAX BAER AND THE STAR OF DAVID, Jay Neugeboren has written his most daring, original, and memorable tale yet.
JAY NEUGEBOREN is the author of award-winning novels (The Stolen Jew, Before My Life Began, 1940, The American Sun & Wind Moving Picture Company, Poli), nonfiction (Imagining Robert, Transforming Madness), and four collections of prize-winning stories. His essays and stories have appeared widely—in the New York Review of Books, the Atlantic Monthly, the American Scholar, Psychiatric Services, Black Clock, Ploughshares, Commonweal, Moment, Hadassah, and the New York Times—and have been reprinted in more than 50 anthologies, including Best American Stories and O. Henry Prize Stories. The recipient of numerous awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, he was Professor and Writer-in-Residence for many years at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and has also taught at Stanford, Columbia, and the State University of New York at Old Westbury. He now lives and writes in New York City.
PRAISE FOR MAX BAER AND THE STAR OF DAVID
“Neugeboren has never been better than in this lush, joyful novel—as erotic and mysterious as The Song of Songs, and as clear as a heavyweight champion's punch in the gut. I loved it.” ROBERT LIPSYTE, author of An Accidental Sportswriter and The Contender
“Max Baer and the Star of David is a strange and strangely beautiful tale that conjures up a golden era of boxing in the way A. J. Liebling did in The Sweet Science. I was enchanted from start to finish, and when I closed the book I thought, ‘Damn, this dude can write!’" GARY SHTEYNGART, author of Little Failure: A Memoir and Super Sad True Love Story
"This lively, high-spirited novel is an irresistible tribute to the sweet science, and a thrillingly jaunty evocation of an almost forgotten era. Neugeboren has, as always, the gift of creating vivid characters and the imagination to put them through delicious travails PHILLIP LOPATE, author of Portrait Inside My Head and Two Marriages
“One of the most accomplished and original writers of our time, Jay Neugeboren has now outdone even himself. With its larger-than-life characters who are all too human, Max Baer and the Star of David is a powerful and starkly gritty literary page-turner. Sorry, but I can't resist—this novel is a total knockout.” BINNIE KIRSCHENBAUM, author of Hester Among the Ruins and The Scenic Route
"Max Baer and The Star of David resides at the rough, mysterious edge between history and myth. The book will bewitch readers with its own powerful song and haunting love story, filled with regret and a deep rage against America's racial sins, past and present." JEROME CHARYN, author of Bitter Bronx and I Am Abraham
"Prize-winning author Jay Neugeboren has crafted a fascinating novel that reimagines the life of Max Baer, a champion boxer of the 1930s. Baer rose to fame at the height of the Great Depression and is best known for defeating German boxer Max Schmeling in 1933 while wearing a Star of David on his shorts in honor of his Jewish grandfather….Neugeboren’s latest novel will captivate readers through its language and the characters’ complicated relationships. Some readers might feel frustrated by the obliqueness of the writing or perturbed by the issues of incest and adultery. Others will be fascinated by Neugeboren’s portrayal of Max Baer as a fallible but larger-than-life individual." EDYT DICKSTEIN, Jewish Book Council
“Jay Neugeboren’s fifteenth published book of fiction, is an exciting blend of fact and fiction….Neugeboren’s Max Baer and the Star of David caught my eye with its fancy footwork: a cast of characters that combat my blood-sport stereotypes and a plot that blocks, ducks, and jabs at just the right times. Is it a knockout of a novel? Not quite, but it wins on points…. Max Baer and the Star of David is definitely an example of the sweet science of plotting and writing excellent fiction. That Neugeboren is a master practitioner of this science, there is no doubt.” JASON HESS, Newpages.com, February 2016
“With Max Baer and the Star of David, Jay Neugeboren creates a pair of distinctive fictional characters and deposits them into the life of the legendary Depression-era boxer. The writing is strong and the characters memorable….Though the “historical” part of the historical fiction is a selling point for the book, it serves as a double-edged sword at times. Baer’s real-life exploits provide great fodder for a story, but they’re sidelined here, so there isn’t much for the audience looking for a Max Baer story. Much about his character, such as his pansexuality and the affairs with the Littlejohns, is fictional rather than historical. On the other hand, Neugeboren writes a charismatic, quotable, and memorable version of the boxer who could justify far more focus than he gets in this story.” JEFF FLEISCHER, Foreword Reviews, Feb.29, 2016
“Author Jay Neugeboren is as unsettling as he is prolific. His latest novel, Max Baer and the Star of David, intertwines the historical with the fabricated. It tells the story of Max Baer, who became heavyweight champion of the world in 1934, and the fictional Horace Littlejohn, an early sparring partner of Baer’s and lifelong confidant….Readers expecting a traditional account of the boxer’s life will be disappointed. But those who let their imaginations open up to this often-strange tale will find it both exciting and illuminating.".SANFORD PINSKER, Hadassah Magazine, June 2016
February 2016 | 206 pages
978-1-942134-17-6 | Paperback with Flaps | $19.95
978-1-942134-18-3 | E-Book | $ 14.95