There is something romantic about underdogs. They are rooted for automatically, without any prior shows of strength or power. In a contest where the spectator is not vested in the stronger competitor, they almost always root for the underdog. In a sense, the world is swarming with potential underdogs, people who have little going for them. People whose day to day existence is in itself a struggle. We root for them, we cheer them on, and when they triumph, it is an ecstasy of a different kind. It is about such people that Vincent Chu writes in his short fiction collection, Like a Champion.

Here, there are no epic story arcs, elaborately built worlds or dashing globe-trotters. These are stories of the everyman. In “Fred from Finance”, the titular character gets laid off on his birthday. This is the very first story, and it sets the precedent for what is to come. It follows Fred on his last day as he says his goodbyes and makes unexpected acquaintances. The story resides well and truly within Fred’s head and it is wonderfully written. “Boom Town” is the story of a woman who got molested on the street, and the changes that the event brings out in her, and her attitude.

In each story, the primary character is someone we have encountered at some point in our lives. Both ‘Fred from Finance’ and ‘Rhubarb Pie’ talks about the unsatisfied office worker. Squirrels is about a basketball team that rarely registers a win. In ‘The Tenderloin’, we meet a lover facing the turmoil of a recent breakup. In ‘Parking with Pops’ a parking lot employee. A shoplifter in ‘Pigs and Stock Boys’, and in the titular story, a comic book shop owner who is about to shut up shop for good. These people are not fighting a war or facing earth shattering crises. They are regular people dealing with regular people problems. Sometimes coming up against insurmountable odds. Some of the endings are fairy-tale ones. But that is okay, because the underdog must win at times. Because that’s how fairy-tales get written.

The settings for these stories are places that also remarkably mundane. The local gym that reeks of sweat, a small supermarket, a comic book shop on its last legs, a parking lot office, a regular office where nobodies. These stories, people and settings are rooted in reality. There is not one person who speaks or does something that is out of character. Nor is there a setting that is too unrealistic to visualise. All these factors come together to produce a collection that is a joy to read.

As is the case with any short fiction collection, there are a few stories that pale in comparison to the others. I found  some of them a slog, and a tad too sluggish. Like one where the protagonist is forced to go on a cruise unwillingly, and how he comes to loathes everything about it. There is also a story entirely told via text messages. While I found the technique novel and intriguing, it did little to help the story. Another thing that I found a bit disconcerting was the author’s fascination with the female posterior, which rears its head every now and then, in multiple stories.

Like A Champion is a light and breezy read. It is an ode to the hustlers, the ones that strive to make it through a day. The everybody who is also a nobody. It is real, relatable and a read that is worth the reader’s time.

Title : Like A Champion
Author : Vincent Chu
Publisher : 7.13 Books
Published : 2018 (ARC)
Language : English
Pages : 238