Book Review : Wrestle Maniacs (2017)
My earliest memories of feeling the power of good storytelling involve watching pro wrestling on television. I was a fan before I could even read, so if you want to talk down on its vaudevillian histrionics, you'll have to go through me. Wrestling is awesome and I've already detailed on this site why it's still around today and why it'll still be in a hundred years. So, a short story anthology about pro wrestling was a no-brainer for me. Of course, I was going to read Wrestle Maniacs and I was hell-bent on enjoying it, too.
So, it is good? Pretty much, yeah. It'll be a little difficult to understand if you're unfamiliar with the concepts of pro wrestling, but who never watched an episode of Raw here, huh? WHO?
The first story that caught my attention in Wrestle Maniacs was Tom Leins' opener Real Americans, which aptly mixes pro wrestling over-the-top theatrics with the gloomy and subtle atmosphere of True Detective, which you know is, like one of my favorite thing in the world. It sets the tone for what is going to be a recurring theme in Wrestle Maniacs : the fine line between reality and kayfabe, pro wrestling's portryal of staged event as real.
Real Americans features retired wrestlers struggling to let go of kayfabe, which offered them their best and most intense memories. The inner conflict between the over-the-top characters and their broken human counterpart really get the story going. My favorite story in the collection was Last of the High-Flying Van Alstynes, by Eryk Pruitt, which explored the similar themes. The protagonist is locked in a corny narrative that may or may not have real implications. In fact, his faulty brain is trapped somewhere between kayfabe, memories and a world that passed him by. It's the only story in Wrestle Maniacs I'd say is heartbreaking.
Other stories from Wrestle Maniacs I particularly enjoyed : the brutal and oddly tragic Duluth, by Ed Kurtz; James Newman's A Friend in Need; Adam Howe's hilarious Rassle Hassle, which is my favorite story featuring his recurring character Reggie Levine and Kill to be You, by Patrick Lacey. All of these, in their own, different way, deal with pro wrestlers facing cold, heart reality. Even the Reggie Levine story which shrewdly features a pro wrestler being duplicitous to another for reasons that have nothing to do with kayfabe, which I thought was hilarious and clever. These were the stories in Wrestle Maniacs, which I think can be enjoyed by anyone with a basic understanding of what pro wrestling is.
Wrestle Maniacs is good, somewhat light-hearted fun even if it sometimes deals with the psychological undertow of pro wrestling. It's a little insular, though. I don't think everybody will "get" it or have the patience to sort through pieces of a very different range. There are a couple lucha libre stories, notably by Gabino Iglesias and Hector Acosta, which weren't bad at all but a little ill-at-ease tonally, in the collection. Lucha libre is a whole other kind of beast, culturally speaking. I'd recommend Wrestle Maniacs to pro wrestling fans, first and foremost, because it speaks directly to them, but if you feel adventurous, this is a universe filled with peculiar treasures for you to discover.