Best New Book by a Former Chicago Golden Gloves Champ

The Old Neighborhood by Bill Hillmann

Critics' Picks

"I didn't want my nose broken. I was the only one of my brothers who hadn't had it broken yet." That line comes from young Joe Walsh, the narrator of Bill Hillmann's near-500-page debut novel, The Old Neighborhood, published in April by local outfit Curbside Splendor. Hillmann's a onetime champion amateur boxer; when he describes an ass whoopin', you know he knows what he's talking about. And there's a whole lot of ass whoopin' in the old neighborhood. But that's the least of it: the Edgewater of the novel is rife with racial tensions and gang wars (I'm guessing the hood's current motto "Living on the Edge" applied more literally back in the day). Joe's a good kid at heart, but the negative influences in his environment are inescapable and perversely attractive; they're like a sweet-tasting poison. Some of his friends and family end up in prison or dead, but Joe's innate compassion enables him to escape a similar fate. Hillmann himself has left the brawling life behind; a practicing Buddhist, these days he limits his own living on the edge to running with the bulls in Spain.