More a treat for horror/dark crime fans than true devotees of professional wrestling, Wrestle Maniacs, unlike the sport it’s based upon, pulls no punches in its all-out brutality. Funny, disgusting, and over the top, when it hits it mirrors its subject matter in a way few short story anthologies can hope to emulate, and when it misses you’re left with the sweaty, sticky spectacle of a Montreal Screwjob.
The book begins with a foreword by Jeff Strand that’s blessedly brief and leads into Tom Leins’s terrific Real Americans, a hard-core tale of drugs, crime, and former wrestling professionals with names like Gringo Starr and Fingerfuck Flanagan. This story really sets the tone for the remainder of the book.
Nick Bullman, the protagonist of James Newman’s Ugly as Sin, returns in the offering A Fiend in Need, though you don’t have to have read the former to be entertained by the latter. This theme of returning characters continues with Joseph Hirsch’s Three Finger Bolo, a gut-wrenching tale of dirty, bloody fighting featuring “Bam-Bam” Abruzzi, the father of Hirsch’s Ritchie “Redrum” Abruzzi in the novel My Tired Shadow.
Fans of lucha libre aren’t left out of the wrestling spectrum with Hector Acosta’s From Parts Unknown, an arresting, bizarre tale of homecoming, and Gabino Iglesias’s revenge story El Nuevo Santo’s Last Fight. You might be forgiven if you thought that David James Keaton’s El Kabong was also a story of luchadores, but it’s not: it starts with the unforgettable line, “While I was still stumbling around trying to figure out why my pants suddenly didn’t seem to have any leg holes, police officers were pounding on my door eager to tell me my wife was found dead in a guitar case.”
Eryk Pruitt twists up the reader like a fish in a Boston Crab in his Last of the High-Flying Van Alstynes, a tale of loss, family, and mental illness. We travel back to pro wrestling’s pre-television days in Ed Kurtz’s Duluth, and Duncan P. Bradshaw’s Glassjaw, another story with a single word as a title, takes place in dialogue rather than action.
Patrick Lacey’s Kill to Be You is not only out there, but way on the other side of the galaxy. The universe, even. And you’ll definitely want to skip lunch before reading Jason Parent’s Canadian Donkey Punch. Just…just trust me on that.
The editor of the anthology, Adam Howe, has the funniest offering in the book (natch) with a Reggie Levine Clusterfuck (sic) titled Rassle Hassle. This time, Reggie finds himself in the wild and wacky world of wrestling, where his unique willingness to do almost anything to help a friend (or a casual acquaintance calling himself a friend) comes in quite handy. I only threw up once reading it, so that’s good.
You don’t have to like professional wrestling to enjoy this collection, particularly if you’re a pseudo-intellectual like me who looks down his nose at such low-brow fare. All you have to remember is the words of wrestling great Ric Flair: “Whether you like it or not, learn to love it, because it’s the best thing going. Woooooo!”