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Roughhouse Friday: A Memoir

Review

Roughhouse Friday: A Memoir

“The road you didn’t take hardly comes to mind,” observes lyricist Stephen Sondheim, but the adventures sometimes chosen at the fork in the road become a part of life that remain with one forever.

Jaed Coffin was living in Sitka, Alaska, working as a tutor in a local high school. After graduating from college, he traveled across America and embarked alone on a 40-day kayaking journey up the Alaskan coast. One night, while working out at a local gymnasium, Coffin heard the sound of boxers in another room. He checked them out, and despite having no experience in the art of boxing, he became a member of their boxing club.

ROUGHHOUSE FRIDAY is Coffin’s account of becoming a fighter and participating in the boxing matches fought in Alaskan bars and other venues by men battling for the honor of being named the best boxer in southeast Alaska. Along the way, he does more than physically battle other men --- he struggles with his own past and the path his life should follow.

"[Coffin] is now a published author and a professor of creative writing at the University of New Hampshire. His memoir is a hopeful and endearing account of part of that journey."

The Friday evening events are described by Coffin in great detail. Initially he is led to believe that they are rather simple matters. His trainer is Victor Littlefield, a legend of roughhouse boxing. Coffin wonders, “Who would I fight?” and Victor replies, “Probably some guy like you. Basically, you go into a bar, take your shirt off, and show everyone how much of a man you are.” But the reality is far, far different from that unadorned observation. Slowly and inexorably, Coffin learns that being a fighter gives him a new certainty about who he is and how he should spend his time. Roughhouse Friday gives him a name and a purpose, something to fight for.

During the holiday break in the academic year at Sitka High School, Coffin returns to his New England home to spend time with his family. His American father, a veteran of the Vietnam War, met his Thai wife while serving in Asia. Coffin was born after the family returned to the United States, but the marriage did not survive. Following his parents’ contentious divorce, Coffin spent his childhood shuttling between his father and his father’s new wife, and his mother, who remained loyal to her heritage. Coffin and his mother would take biannual trips back to Thailand to spend time with her family. ROUGHHOUSE FRIDAY is the story of Coffin’s struggle to understand what path his life should follow. After graduating from Middlebury College, he headed west and eventually to Alaska without any real plan about what his future held.

There is something almost mysterious about Coffin’s memoir. His remembrances of his bouts in the ring are a mixture of mystery and mayhem as he describes his fights in a manner that exalts the battle, while at the same time recognizing that the contests are often nothing more than glorified bar fights.

And while there seems to be some internal demons, Coffin acknowledges that his opponents and other fighters are engaged in those same contests. As he poignantly observes, “Even the most raw, unskilled bouts, when watched with any empathy at all for the people in them, reveal a tender story about each fighter: what they are made of, who they are, what sadness they carry, what joy.”

A quick glance at the dust jacket of ROUGHOUSE FRIDAY informs readers that whatever demons Coffin may have battled have been conquered. He is now a published author and a professor of creative writing at the University of New Hampshire. His memoir is a hopeful and endearing account of part of that journey.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on July 19, 2019

Roughhouse Friday: A Memoir
by Jaed Coffin

  • Publication Date: June 18, 2019
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • ISBN-10: 0374251959
  • ISBN-13: 9780374251956