While lifting weights in the Seldon Jackson College gymnasium, Jaed Coffin heard the distinctive whacking sound of sparring boxers down the hall. A year out of college, he had been biding his time as a tutor at a local high school in Sitka, Alaska. That evening, Coffin joined a ragtag boxing club. For the first time, he felt like he fit in.
Coffin’s descriptions of these fights offer a frenetic account of what it’s like to be inside the ring, attempting to figure your opponent’s style and weaknesses out before things rapidly go wrong ... a precise way of rendering chaos onto the page: Coffin demonstrates how even a fight as hectic as this has its ebbs and flows, and how his own confidence shifts over the course of the bout ... Roughhouse Friday abounds with contradictions: It’s a memoir about empathy that includes extensive descriptions of fighters beating one another up. But those unlikely juxtapositions make for a rewarding read. Coffin’s conclusions about masculinity and archetypes don’t come to him easily, and their repercussions on his personal relationships have seismic effects. Elements of this story—a young man ventures to a small town far from all he’s known to discover who he really is—can feel familiar at times. But Coffin finds the specificity in his own experiences, both through his familial dynamic and through the people he encounters in Alaska, to make this memoir an intense and haunting read.
At first glance, this lewd combination of testosterone and sleaze sounds like any other banal boxing story, but this is merely a glittery distraction to the memoir’s deeper preoccupation — Coffin’s compelling confrontation with his father, his mixed identity, and his ingrained sense of masculinity. At its heart, Roughhouse Friday details Coffin’s hunger for a language he can call his own ... The book’s most powerful moments occur at the arrival of...realizations: Coffin reveals how he began to see how his father created the terms of his mother’s existence...While Coffin unravels these knots with an impressive emotional dexterity, some are perhaps too tightly woven to see ... Though he has gone some way to shed the skin his father has wrapped around him, its flakey residue remains ... Roughhouse Fridayis therefore the search for a new language that never quite manifests. But it was by no means in vain. Coffin’s triumph lies in ridding the language of his father, a language that compelled him to dwell in a house he did not recognize as his own.
There is something almost mysterious about Coffin’s memoir. His remembrances of his bouts in the ring are a mixture of mystery and mayhem as he describes his fights in a manner that exalts the battle, while at the same time recognizing that the contests are often nothing more than glorified bar fights ... A quick glance at the dust jacket of Roughhouse Friday informs readers that whatever demons Coffin may have battled have been conquered. He is now a published author and a professor of creative writing at the University of New Hampshire. His memoir is a hopeful and endearing account of part of that journey.