Pain was Joe Grim's self-expression, his livelihood and reason for being. A superstar boxer who rarely won a fight, Grim distinguished himself for his extraordinary ability to withstand physical punishment. Michael Winkler moves between the present day and Grim's 1908-9 tour of Australia, bending genres and histories into an investigation of pain, masculinity, and narrative.
It is somewhat strange to say, then, that the parts of Grimmish that are billed as being the most form-breaking are really the parts that feel the most tired and derivative ... Mr. Winkler (or his narrative double) dwells constantly on his struggles in writing about Grim ... He includes tail-covering rationales for the book’s absence of indigenous characters and shortage of women. And he insistently twists Grim into a symbol for the sense of painful futility that has plagued his own writing career and the absurdity of his dogged endurance. The effect is not benign ... It’s as if he doesn’t trust us enough to do the thinking on our own.
The real interest and actual qualities of Winkler’s book lie in its remarkable subject matter ... Winkler’s cunning literary fight plan is to anticipate and attempt to block every punch in order to achieve victory. It is an entertaining technique, and will be familiar to fans of defensive boxers ... In a world in which there is much talk of “toxic” masculinity, Grimmish provides a model for how a writer might confront the difficult challenge of writing about, and celebrating, masculine energies and impulses.
Grimmish is funny – absurdly, sporadically, intelligently funny ... It is Winkler’s attempt to document Grim’s unfathomable life – to indirectly, absorb and transform some of his pain – that allows us, humbly, to see the beauty and validity in all lives, and to better see our own ... By using the combination of fiction, non-fiction, reportage and the outlandish ramblings of a talking goat, we are ourselves able, instead, to sketch and create a portrait of pain, of madness.