Hidden in Plain Sight
There isn’t a lot of wrestling fiction out there. Not like baseball. Or even basketball and football. It’s interesting that there isn’t. The innate fictional aspects of wrestling would seem to lend themselves to it. It is larger than life. It is beyond the scope of normal fiction. It seems to me that this would be a natural, that there would be a wealth of wrestling fiction. Boxing fiction seems to dominate that corner. The only piece that comes to mind is Christa Faust’s wicked noir HOODTOWN, now over ten years old, first published in June 2004.
There’s a beauty in wrestling in the hiding of identity. The malleability of identity. Terry Bollea can be Hulk Hogan. He can be “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan. The entire mystique of the enmascarado in Mexican lucha libre. Mil Máscaras and his thousand masks. Simply the phrase “from parts unknown” brings to mind the hidden world of the wrestler. What parts unknown? Where do they come from? Where do they go? Faust’s HOODTOWN from FPU (From Parts Unknown) Press creates a world predicated on a ghetto of masks inside the larger world. Where the mask is the face, and the face is the mask. It’s a brilliant novel that deserves to be read and reread.
Angelina Mirabella captures that feeling of identity in her debut novel THE SWEETHEART, the coming of age story of 17 year old Leonie Putzkammer in the early 1950s. An awkward and gawky teen, 17 year old Leonie is spotted doing handstands in public, and from this thrust into the world of circuit wrestling – starting her training her in Florida, in a camp not unlike the circus camps of acts, where dreams come true, and are crushed into the harsh, humid, bug-infested Floridian skies. Her short meteoric career cover the novel as she grows from callow youth to world champion … to truly being a real person. Key to this is the conception of identity, of who you are. Of even what your name is. As in real life as Dwayne Johnson became the Rock, Leonie becomes Gwen Davies, the Sweetheart – a glamorous wrestler with the lipstick charm, and finally into Leigh Kramer – her real self. She is not who she was born as, but she is not who she originally imagined herself to be either. But all are pieces of the whole, as a piece of mail fifty years later to Gwen Davies invokes that world for Leonie.
Mirabella invokes the term kayfabe near the beginning of the novel. The need for a story. The need for meaning. Every wrestler must have a story. Every match must have a story. Deftly woven into the novel is the underlying need for everyone to have a story. Spider McGee, Leonie’s ostensible boyfriend, is designated by family ties and traditions, much like the real life the real life latter day Hart family, to become the champion. He has no desire, but that it is his kayfabe. It’s his story. The retired wrestler David Henderson, the Monster, with his Frankenstein build and his undercover penchant for Betty Page style photography. Even her nephew has a story hidden from view, as he is the Turnip to her, not Harold. In a straightforward narrative, of people caught in everyday life, there is this undercurrent of mystery, of the unreal. Of yes, the story. Subtly perhaps, starting early on with the mention of Santo on an invitation. He will be honored. Just as Leonie’s one-time partner, one-time nemesis Screaming Mimi Hollander will be. Inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. For their wrestling. For their passion. But really, for their stories. For all their stories.
HOODTOWN is still available from FPU on their website: http://frompartsunknown.net/ . Author Christa Faust can be found at her website: http://christafaust.net/ . THE SWEETHEART has been out since February 2015 from Simon & Schuster.
Check them both out.