The Real McCoy
The tale of Kid McCoy starts out as a tip-top humdinger. Strauss — author of Chang and Eng, a debut lollapalooza about conjoined twins from Siam — writes about the Gatsbyfied Virgil Selby, a boy who just rolled up out of nowhere in 1895, swiped the identity of an itinerant boxer, and remade himself as a prizefighter with a devastating corkscrew punch and a flimflam artist of enviable imagination. The yarn proceeds in a risky yammer; in a good scam, for instance, ”the sucker’s whole face will burst like a potato when it’s cooked.” Chinese grifters patter philosophically. Redheaded dames display snappish wit. But what begins colorfully devolves into haphazard cartoonishness, a series of ridiculous con jobs and historical walk-ons that affords few glimpses of the Kid’s inner life.