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September 29, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

FAT CITY by Leonard Gardner (University of California Press: $10.95, 183 pp.). Filmed by John Houston in 1972, Gardner's novel depicts two tank-town fighters reaching for the crown but failing to achieve it. Although Billy Tully once showed real promise, his comeback efforts are stymied by his slide into alcoholism; with his long reach and easy moves, Ernie Munger looks like a natural, but he lacks the drive of a true champion.

Dark and coldly despairing, "Fat City" reveals the gritty underside of the San Joaquin Valley shortly after World War II. Its reissue marks the debut of UC Press' "California Fiction" series, novels chosen "for their literary quality and for their illumination of California history and culture."

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