Peter Wood Writes a Knockout

By Robert Mladinich on November 8, 2018
Peter Wood Writes a Knockout
Watt becomes undone by the loss of his brother to drugs and the shattering of his family.

Wood’s gutbucket prose and insight into the human psyche is riveting, disturbing, thought-provoking, intuitive, and extremely visceral… 

Peter Wood is recognized as being a foremost boxing authority, as evidenced by his success in the ring as a 1971 New York City Golden Gloves middleweight finalist, and author of two exceptional books that recount the travels and travails of a young man seeking validation and redemption in the ring.

In his most recent book, “The Boy Who Hit Back,” which was released in October by TCK Publishing, Wood takes on new ground in exploring the complexities and nuances of growing up in a seemingly idyllic suburban home that is actually a ferment of dysfunction, drug addiction, failures and disappointments, alcoholism, and one’s search for personal identity amid cataclysmic familial circumstances.

Wood’s protagonist, Matthew Watt, is a once popular high school superstar in the classroom and on the sports fields who becomes undone by the loss of his brother to drugs and the shattering of his family.

When his parents’ divorce, Watt is forced to live with his dismissive and selfish mother, as well as her pompous, pipe-smoking second husband who Watt derisively refers to as the “Jackass.”

Compounding Watt’s turmoil is the abandonment by his beloved biological father, a onetime composer who lost the love of his life—his wife—when he could no longer produce hits. He spirals downward into a pit of alcoholism and leaves the young, angry, and emotionally wounded Watt to his own devices to battle his way out of his personal quagmire.

Watt begins failing and cutting school—taking the bus from his upscale New Jersey suburban hellhole to the dank, sometimes dangerous streets of the early 1970s Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side. 

Watt meets up with Benny “Sailor” Barlow, a mysterious panhandler and former light-heavyweight boxing champion who is living in his own perdition. Barlow, who is loosely based on middleweight champion Mickey Walker, aka “The Toy Bulldog,” had once been the talk of the town, but has been defeated by the knowledge that he had killed a man in the ring and abandoned his own son.

Besides suffering from dementia, the 75-year-old Barlow has a history of alcohol and drug addiction, and is afflicted with Parkinson’s disease and a host of other maladies. He lives in a boarding house with his beloved one-eyed dog named Lavender, and was once a renowned primitive artist. The lost paintings figure prominently in the narrative of the book. 

While Watt initially sets out to assist a hospitalized Barlow—with the help of an equally troubled female love interest from his high school—his ability to view life through a new prism—that of the troubled ex-champ, impels Watt to mature at a much quicker pace than he could have ever imagined. 

Along the way, Watt learns not only about himself, but more importantly and extremely poignantly—the fact that troubled teenagers, like troubled adults, make far too many choices from their own woundedness—all too often with no personal awareness to guide them.

While it would be easy for the adults to be portrayed as selfish, boorish, and unkind—Wood does not take the easy way out. Instead, he explores quite effectively how life’s tragedies have an influence on people of all ages.

Although Watt’s mother initially seems loathsome, Wood portrays her as a victim of her own fragile state that is borne by fear, guilt, and loss. Watt’s father was also derailed by life’s cruelties, as was Barlow, who often heartbreakingly mistakes Watt for his own lost son named George. 

As in Wood’s previous books, “Confessions of a Fighter,” and “A Clenched Fist—The Making of a Golden Gloves Champion,” his gutbucket prose and insight into the human psyche is riveting, disturbing, thought-provoking, intuitive, and extremely visceral. 

Esteemed author Robert Lipsyte said that Wood “throws a sweet sentence and can knock you out with a paragraph.”

Wood knocks the reader out with lots of paragraphs in this wonderful book, which takes no shortcuts and offers no apologies for its nuanced grittiness as it explores all aspects of the human psyche—many of which—for some people at least—might be better off unexplored.

Peter Wood’s “The Boy Who Hit Back” is available at

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  1. peter 09:13pm, 12/22/2018

    Casanovita de Ahome—How was the book? Write a comment!

  2. Casanovita de Ahome 12:50pm, 11/09/2018

    @Peter Wood-Thank you. I will respond to Amazon.

  3. peter 12:36pm, 11/09/2018

    Casanovita—The morning of the Johnson fight, I woke up sick. That night, entering the ring, I still wasn’t feeling great. I knew Johnson, standing in the other corner, was good—the best middleweight fighting in his gym. In the first round, on the ropes, when he started connecting with a few shots, I felt embarrassed and for a split second, the cowardly thought flashed through my mind—Sit down, Pete. A few second later I turned it around and knocked him out. I was shaking my head with absolute disgust in myself for allowing that weak thought enter my mind…Thanks for your interest and for asking the question! And for ordering my book! Beware—it is not a traditional boxing book—but I hope you enjoy reading it. If so, please consider writing a 1-2 sentence response on Amazon—the same page on which you ordered it. Many Thanks!—Irish Pete

  4. Casanovita de Ahome 08:16am, 11/09/2018

    Just ordered the book….2 day free shipping too!

  5. Casanovita de Ahome 07:39am, 11/09/2018

    @Peter Wood-Serious question….why did you keep shaking your head as you circled around the ring after you KOd Johnson in the Semi-Final? It looked to me like your cornerman was asking you the same question when he got into the ring with you that night.

  6. peter 06:27pm, 11/08/2018

    Ted—Thank you! Pick up a copy. I think you will enjoy the craziness, tumult, and emotional chaos and drama found between the two covers.

  7. peter 06:22pm, 11/08/2018

    don—Thanks!  I’ll do my best!

  8. Ted Sares 04:48pm, 11/08/2018

    Peter is one of my favorite writers. He is compelling and goes deep.

  9. don from prov 03:11pm, 11/08/2018

    Go get them, Mr. Wood.