BOOK REVIEW: Like a Champion by Vincent Chu

There are moments in everyone’s life where they are faced with a decision. It could be something as simple as wanting people to try your dish at a party or something as important as facing a cheating spouse. In these moments we find the courage to speak up and do something, either to announce how good the dish is or to ignore the conversation that might end the relationship. In Like A Champion, Vincent Chu’s debut collection of short stories, we get to witness these moments of everyday people working up the courage to face the decision in front of them.

I was surprised at how invested I found myself reading these slices of life. None of the stories are dealing with heroic acts, or life-and-death situations. For the most part they are mundane normal everyday things. A man trying to be liked at work, a kid making prank phone calls, a couple chatting over a dating app. Yet each story is so personal you can’t help but see yourself in this situation. Chu does this magical thing of finding the heart of the story, cutting it out and placing it on the table in front of you. He points a mirror at you and shows you what your life might be like if you did one thing differently.

Some of the stories will make you cry, others will make you laugh or become angry. You might scream at the guy interrogating the girl of his dreams because he thinks she stole some Beanie Babies. You might cry as you read the emails a mother sends to her estranged daughter, doing her best to fix a broken relationship. It can be heartbreaking reading a line like this, “Please try to let go of my past errors. Did you know I was also hurt deeply by my own mother and father in the past?” Chu shows us that while everyone might do something to screw up their life, there is still time to try to fix it or to take the leap and try something new.

Even though each story is unique in the collection, there is a theme of everyday people having the courage to go out on a limb. Chu plops us in the story right before or right after something important has happened, and shows what courage can do, be it good or bad. It can be as simple as a couple going to the movies. They are avoiding talking to each other, afraid of the fight that might come. We’ve all been in this moment, who is going to break first, who is going to come out swinging? We watch as they discover the movie is sold out, so the husband faces the challenge and opens up to talk, only to discover his wife has been hiding a terrible secret. This man worked up the courage to face his problem, it didn’t work out for him, but that is life, and this book.

I am amazed at how well Chu can capture life’s unpredictability and put it on the page, without cheapening out and giving us a happy ending or a villain to hate. You might dislike the main character of a story, or might hate seeing the terrible aftermath of a decision. But, you will applaud the courage the character has to act in the face of uncertainty. A man watches his coworker, “Sometimes I’m reminded of Fight Club when I look at my coworker, but I know that Barbara isn’t the leader of an underground bare-knuckle boxing organisation. That’s artisanal jam on her shirt collar, not blood.” She’s tired of working in the office and plans on quitting by throwing a rhubarb pie in her boss’ face. She asks him to help keep the boss occupied until she can attack. At first he turns her down, but eventually decides if she has the courage to quit and be a baker, he can have the courage to help her follow her dreams. It might cost him his job, the one he’s had for five years with the same title, but he knows she is better than the office. He didn’t know what was going to happen, but isn’t that what courage is? Doing something despite the uncertainty of the outcome?

I think somewhere in this book you will find something relate-able, be it a story or a character. Maybe something you’ve done or someone in your life that has had the courage to do something different.

Like A Champion will have you staying up late to read one more story to get that boost of inspiration, I know I did. It’ll have you rooting for the everyday person that needs that one moment to be a champion of their story.

Like a Champion is published by 7.13 Books and is available to purchase here.

7.13 booksVincent Chu

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Vincent Chu was born in Oakland, California. His fiction has appeared in PANK Magazine, East Bay Review, Pithead Chapel, Fjords Review, Cooper Street, Stockholm Review, Chicago Literati, Forth Magazine, The Collapsar, WhiskeyPaper and elsewhere. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Sundress Publications Best of the Net. Like a Champion is his debut collection. He wrote most of the stories in Cologne, Germany. He lives in San Francisco and can be found online at @herrchu.

Reviewed by Matthew Brandenburg

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