‘The Champ’ by Pedro Juan Soto

The Champ by Pedro Juan Soto, 1957

The magic trick:

Using a game of pool as a microcosm for a character’s struggle

Technically this is set in Harlem, but it’s El Barrio of the Puerto Rican explosion of the 1950s.

It tells the story of a 16-year-old boy trying to prove his manhood by beating the neighborhood’s reigning pool champion.

And he does beat him. Twice. However, manhood proves elusive.

The details and the drama of the games of pool are OK. But what really drives the story is the internal monologue we get from our protagonist during and after the games are over. It provides the perfect window into his hopes and dreams and views of his entire world.

And that’s quite a trick on Juan Soto’s part.

The selection:

The cigarette went from behind his ear to his lips. When he lit it, turning his back to the table so that the fan would not blow out the match, he saw the sly smile of the scorekeeper. He turned around rapidly and caught Gavilan right in the act: feet lifted off the floor, body leaning against the table rim to make an easy shot. Before he could speak, Gavilan had pocketed the ball.

“Hey, man!”

“Wha’ happen?” Gavilan said calmly, eyeing the next shot.

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