The Designer’s Drugs: Josh Olsen – Six Months

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Josh Olsen ‒ Six Months

 

 

I half expected this book’s back cover declaration of returning to the womb every six months to refer to some transgressive trans-vaginal exploitation film scene.  The funny thing about my Rorschach reaction to the noirish packaging of Six Months is that the true meaning behind that line became the thing in this excellent book of one page stories which resonated with me most.  Instead of being a tale of sexy sadist slapstick, the title story tells of the author’s biannual returns to his hometown, which is also my hometown.

My fellow expatriate describes the sadness found in returning to La Crosse only to discover that nobody there has improved in any significant way.  The only changes to the author’s friends and family are those of age.  This saddens him in part because he can’t join in with their lack of success, that he can’t find the old camaraderie and fellowship within shared disappointments, that he can no longer be a lifer.  He’s become a visitor, and every six months he leaves the old world behind.

If I hadn’t felt exactly those things about exactly this place, “Six Months” may have simply been one more very good story.  But as I’m also filled with that same sort of self-nullified nostalgia for our hopeless hometown in western Wisconsin, the story picked up a really powerful, fascinating sense of despair.

Beyond this, Olsen fills the rest of this quick book with the sort of warped yarns that will appeal to a certain sort of man approaching middle age.  Most of these tales are presented as stories from the author’s life, anecdotes about his messed up life and his attempts to square being a respectable father and neighbor with the deviant malcontent (and husband) within.  The perv is certainly on display in the showroom, though these tales steer far from becoming grotesque and trans-vaginal, and this warped Ward Cleaver is most interesting when he’s not being a little hard on the beaver.

Two of my favorite stories are clever little bits of weird, the first involving the author attempting to meet the great Captain Lou Albano and the second being a musing over the creator of the classic Holocaust comic book memoir Maus and my beloved, forbidden Garbage Pail Kids.  Until here, I didn’t know that the creator of these vastly different cultural artifacts was the same person.

I’m also a fan of Olsen’s hateful reminiscences of his own father figures, as well as his adventure in shitting in a sandbox.

Much of what makes this mishmash of bizarre stories function is that there’s a humor and humanity to them that doesn’t wallow in the sordid details.  I suppose that the fact that each story is but one page long helps this.  I definitely want to read something longer from Josh Olsen, but this quick, fascinating burst of screwball tales is captivating enough on its own.

The Designer’s Drugs: Chuck Palahniuk – Damned

 

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Chuch Palahniuk ‒ Damned

 

 

In Chuck Palahniuk’s new world, Hell is Hollywood.  Hell is also Hell, full of the typical wailing, gnashing teeth, and rising lakes of wasted jizz that serve as Hell’s equivalent of global warming.  But if we’re stacking up the hierarchy of the awful, consider this ‒ even Palahniuk’s Satan has a script he’s trying to sell.

Damned promotes itself as The Breakfast Club in Hell, and if Madison, its pudgy, oft-neglected hero, resembles any member of that Saturday morning detention crowd, it’s the Ally Sheedy neurotic girl.  (In discussing that 80s film classic, our girl notes that she howls with terror when the popular cheerleader gives said outcast a condescending makeover.)  Madison’s quite a bit more than that dark, mousy type, however.  In true Palahniuk fashion, this preteen is quick to assert that she knows middle of the road words like gender, excrement, tenacious, and feign ‒ yet in casual moments she nonchalantly drops bigger words and phrases like colonoscopies, biological imperatives, vivandiers, and coals-to-Newcastle.  I have no idea what that last phrase even means.

This newly lost soul spent life as an unloved prop to her vapid Hollywood parents, the sort of people who adopt kids from around the world shortly before shipping them off to boarding school, the sort of people who fly their kids via private jet to ecology retreats.  I get the impression that there’s a healthy portion of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in these absurdly cosmopolitan celebrity caricatures.

After dying from a marijuana overdose, Madison meets up with the requisite Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, and Judd Nelson characters, and this infernal Breakfast Club goes traipsing around the hoary netherworld in search of misadventure.  As time goes by, Madison gets kind of awesome.  She preaches the joys of damnation in her telemarketing job, beats up Hitler in grand, hilarious style, and goes on a spew-soaked revenge haunting.

The last book of Chuck’s that I picked up before this one was Snuff, whose porno gangbang setting was the most obvious and inevitable thing an author inclined toward burying his readers in freakshows and trivia could have produced.  That book was so over the top as to become really, really boring.  In contrast, Damned is kind of delightful.  Perhaps the choice of setting absorbs some of that stereotypical shock.  Sure, Palahniuk’s paintbrush colors up a pretty disturbing landscape of the inferno, but it’s Hell, so that’s kind of expected.  With the need to shock sort of canceled out, the story ends up relying on wit and characterization, and Palahniuk, perhaps having no choice, ended up writing a book combining the scope and cleverness of Robert Olen Butler’s Hell with the innocent charm of Judy Blume, right down to beginning each chapter with “Are you there, Satan?  It’s me, Madison.”  Damned seems to be a reworking ‒ if not total subversion ‒ of Chuck Palahniuk’s established formula, and as such, it made me a fan again.

 

The Designer’s Drugs: Drew Magary – The Postmortal

 

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Drew Magary ‒ The Postmortal

 

 

In keeping with my recent forays into near future dystopian literature comes The Postmortal, a fascinating account of a 21st Century in which humanity has eliminated aging.  This story is all about being careful what you wish for; almost from the moment humanity unleashes nigh-immortality it spends the rest of the story trying to cram it back into Pandora’s Box.  Humanity doesn’t become one iota superior for having shaken off the reaper: immortals keep pumping out kids on autopilot, the new mankind-worshipping religion comes off as equally totalitarian as the afterlife salesmen it supplanted, and the internet trolls have painted themselves green and run out into the real world to maim and murder.  In this world of total overpopulation and self-absorption, it takes no great imagination to predict that the forever business would soon change back to the death business.

The story’s lead, a former estate lawyer named John Farrell, eventually falls into the death business, getting his feet wet as a euthanasia assistant (known in oh so customer service terms as End Specialists).  As the world continues to slide due to people’s stubborn refusals to die and/or stop multiplying, Farrell and the rest of the Kevorkians find themselves upgraded to government-sponsored public hitmen, charged with taking out the elderly and undesirable.

But that’s only the latter half of the story ‒ and honestly, it’s the least compelling half.  Mostly, that’s because the most fun in The Postmortal comes in watching Drew Magary describe the minutiae of the brave new world through Farrell’s journals.  Our hero ponders such ideas as the decline and transformation of marriage in a world where “to death do you part” has no meaning, the end of retirement and Social Security, immortality’s effect on crime and punishment, the fading of personal goals to work towards, and the strong possibility that almost nobody is really prepared to face up to the massive personal responsibilities involved in existing forever.

I like John Farrell as a character, though his narrative is way too full circle as old flames tend to neatly pop out of nowhere to replace new voids in his life.  He’s an intelligently written cipher through which the reader gets to look into a fantastically terrifying future.  That’s said, his philosophies and sociology are much more gripping than his life.  As Magary’s big world-building gives way to the desperate living within that world, a bit of that fascination fades and is replaced by horror.

Within the dystopia lit I’ve read recently, I’ve found that I like the big-picture approach, on display in Albert Brooks’ 2030, over the sort of Player One solipsism seen in Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story.  The Postmortal occupies a strong middle ground between the two, moving from Brooks’ style to Shteyngart’s, from sociology to the surreal.  Beyond my reservations on building a story of immortality around a guy who seems unable to move forward ‒ and maybe that’s the point ‒ this story of the end of the end is really magnificent.

The Designer’s Drugs: Top 11 of 11

So here’s my crappy end of year list.  I don’t think I liked enough albums, books, or other entertainments to warrant separate best-of lists for each medium, so I’m just smashing everything together. Deal with it.

11.  Medium: Literature. Stimulus: George R. R. Martin – A Dance with Dragons

Finally, George R. R. Martin continues his Song of Fire and Ice series with a gigantic book that nonetheless picks up the pace and is much more exciting than its predecessor.

10.  Medium: Film. Stimulus: Red State

The guy who directed Clerks and Mallrats makes a serious movie about Fred Phelps-grade religious fanaticism and David Koresh-grade domestic terrorism.  On paper, you’d think it wouldn’t work, but it works pretty goddamn hard.

9.      Medium: Game. Stimulus: The Nintendo 3DS

Most video game systems suck and have a crappy library of games in their first year.  The Nintendo 3DS bypassed this by cutting the crap and releasing upgraded versions of the company’s best games 15 years ago, Ocarina of Time and Starfox 64.  It worked.  Add a highly serviceable port of Street Fighter IV, a Mario game that is the 2011 version of 1990’s Super Mario Bros. 3, and the requisite round of Mario Kart, and the opening salvo of the 3DS hasn’t been too bad at all.

8.      Medium: Album. Stimulus: Austrian Death Machine – Jingle All the Way

If you haven’t listened to the Arnold Schwarzenegger-themed metal genius that is Austrian Death Machine, do it.  Do it now!  Their latest release is a two-song EP based on Arnold’s epic Christmas movie, Jingle All the Way.  “I’m Not a Pervert,” based on Arnold’s failed attempt at gaining a bouncy ball from a stupid kid at the Mall of America, is the feel-good Christmas song of the year.

7.      Medium: Literature. Stimulus: Albert Brooks – 2030.

A believable, grounded account of American decline without the usual futuristic vibe.  Usually, books about the future are pretty devoid of compassion and pretty bonered out on robo-fascism, but Brooks plays it calm and presents a future with real people – and, equally important, real language.  This examination of overpopulation and boomer entitlement reaching old age is less fiction than it is frightening inevitability.

6.      Medium: Album. Stimulus: William Shatner – Seeking Major Tom

Shatner Shatners it up and sings cover songs about space.  How could this possibly go wrong?  The answer: it won’t.

5.      Medium: Album. Stimulus: Peter Gabriel – New Blood

I think that instead of the usual gathering of singles into the usual stale Greatest Hits collection, all musicians who reach such a reflective point in their careers should do orchestral renditions of their best songs.  Especially the B-52s.  Consider Peter Gabriel and this beautiful retrospective to be my prime argument for this.

4.      Medium: Literature. Stimulus: Andy Schoepp – Time Ninja

Once more, the great Andy Schoepp delivers over the top martial arts action in book form, yet this time he outdoes himself.  Time traveling ninjas, giant robots, and hot assassin babes make for an epic tale.  I’ve said it before: if Andy Schoepp’s work doesn’t kick your ass, then you don’t have an ass.

3.      Medium: Album. Stimulus: Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials

This is what pop music should always sound like: well-crafted yet forceful, ambitious yet immediate, intellectual yet emotional.  Ceremonials is titanic sonic literature.

2.      Medium: Film. Stimulus: Hobo with a Shotgun

This ridiculous, ultraviolent, pun-heavy bit of low-rent cinema made me grateful to be alive.  Seeing an old grizzled hobo dispense buckshot justice to an awesome family of gleefully murderous gangsters was a joy.  Remember: when life gives you razor blades, you make a bat covered in razor blades!

1.      Medium: Life. Stimulus: Protests!

It’s breathtaking to see people giving a shit and fighting corrupt systems of power worldwide.  In America this seems even more amazing, because we’re currently the spoiled children of the planet.  Divide that down to the Midwest, where the secondary holy mantra that follows “go [insert local NFL team]” is “don’t rock the boat,” and consider my mind blown.  My expectations for humanity this year were completely shattered, and that feels wonderful.

The Designer’s Drugs: Albert Brooks – 2030

 

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Albert Brooks – 2030

Anno: 2011

 

I’ve recently developed a fascination with American declinist literature, stories taking place not far in the future which predict the end of America’s run as king of the mountain.  In reading Albert Brooks’ excellent account of the wane of one more empire, I drew immediate parallels to Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, though as soon as I did so the differences also presented themselves.  The destination of both books is the same, but the focus of each is the polar opposite of the other.  Shteyngart’s story is concerned with the clutching desperation for youth in a hyper-networked world.  It describes, almost by necessity, a more absurd, idiotic place (I hesitate to say that it is more self-obsessed).  In contrast, the world Brooks describes is being wrecked by the old, who have become an undying, retired ruling caste with no regard for the Social Security slave state it has created.  Here, the young are not venerated but marginalized and then feared as hopelessness boils over.

The colors Brooks paints with are much more sober and human.  Leaving out the flying cars and neo-Facebook crackheads, the only technology that’s really fetishized in his story is medical technology.  The cancer cure that turned 60 into the new 30 was just the beginning of the immortality industry that both elevates and plagues this world, but Brooks doesn’t have his characters speak in Internetese or act hip and futuristic.  Both the old and young are gathered together and presented as terrified, self-interested, conflicted, and most of all familiar characters.  This point is precisely what gives 2030 its power.

This wide scope also leads to some weird changes in perspective in which the reader gets into the thoughts of multiple people at the same time.  This pinball narrative isn’t unreadable, but for those conditioned to read and write a certain way, it is noticeable.  Also noticeable is a thin political vagueness that seems to indicate a desire to make the issues of 2030 beyond politics.  This is best seen in the American president, a central character who is buried under his nation’s rubble, as well as his own.  He isn’t explicitly labeled a Democrat, but his team is pretty obvious.  One of his rivals is painted as a corporate opportunist who plays the field, but his business interests in a chain of retirement homes would seem to make him an ardent anti-Kevorkian Republican.  As opposed to the contradictions and asymmetry of the characters, I don’t think this lack of definition in the big picture completely works.

This is a pretty amazing work of future world building which has easily become my favorite story of the end of the United States as we know it.  The characterization amidst the deep examination of an impending and severe social issue makes clear that Albert Brooks wasn’t simply interested in creating an American grave to dance upon.  What’s most gripping about 2030 is the possibility that he might be right about everything.

The Designer’s Drugs: Tina Fey – Bossypants

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Tina Fey – Bossypants

Anno: 2011

This half-biography, half humor book from America’s reigning comedic mind alternates between being too short and running at just the right length.  If one is looking for Tina Fey to give a detailed, minute by minute account of her life and career, well, that didn’t happen.  When she does talk about herself, Fey gives a Cliff’s Notes version of her life: childhood, awkward dates, Second City, getting hired at Saturday Night Live, the process of creating 30 Rock, and her Sarah Palin impersonation that became one of the most notorious aspects of the 2008 presidential election.  Yet it seems obvious that the biography parts, especially the personal, serious bits, were written with great reluctance and as necessary evils.  With the exception of describing work-related stress, she tends not to dwell on feelings and sticks to the facts when the big picture is called for.  As such, there are brief moments when Bossypants gets more biography than autobiography, with “I” being substituted for “she.”  In contrast, it’s clear that the goof off parts of the book, the weird asides and ridiculous lists, are where Fey’s heart really lies.

This isn’t to say that the tone of the book is harshly bipolar, but that the most personal parts of Bossypants often come with a healthy dose of deflection.  Humor is the easy disguise, but Fey exposes herself most in describing others, whether it’s talking her dad up to tall tale proportions or describing her husband’s travel hang-ups and their disastrous journeys together.  It’s in keeping with this lack of self-centeredness that the book’s strongest statement about the potential of women in comedy is a story in which Fey watches from the sidelines as a female castmate tells off a male castmate.

The book does end sort of awkwardly.  The coda begins with Fey musing about being a woman getting older in a business that sycophantically worships youth.  Yet as it progresses, a growing part of that musing involves whether or not Fey should have a second child.  Ultimately it becomes a question Fey asks the reader.  It’s a strange enough ending point on its face, but its gets stranger when one discovers that Fey announced, around the time of this book’s publication, that she is in fact pregnant.  This may be a case of strange and highly appropriate timing or an intentional art-into-life narrative, but the end effect comes off like asking people to vote in an election that was decided the previous week.

Bossypants may not be the greatest comedian’s memoir of all time, but it is a very good supplement to the rest of Tina Fey’s work.

The Designer’s Drugs: Andy Schoepp – Time Ninja

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Andy Schoepp – Time Ninja

Anno: 2010

 

Andy Schoepp’s first novel, The Martial Arts Murders, will always have a special place in my heart.  Having spent long periods of my life as a ninja film nerd, the blend of frantic martial arts action, frenzied screw scenes, and unapologetic machismo featured in this debut was right up my alley.  That said, while The Martial Arts Murders is my favorite of Schoepp’s work, I’d have to say that Time Ninja is his best work.

The trilogy that Murders commenced was hyperactive and occasionally flirted with science fiction, but it was also grounded in the geography and circumstances of the modern world.  Beyond the action, these books were essentially mysteries.  In Time Ninja, Schoepp finally leaps into the deep end of the sci-fi pool and gets his hands dirty with world-building.  The story begins with a ninja feud, a few decades from now, which propels the titular ninja, Ryu Kendo, into a future dystopia and the real focus of the plot.  It’s still Earth, but not the Earth as we know it, and it’s fascinating to see how he tweaks the planet.

I’m going to throw this out there, not as a specific criticism of this book but of the gimmick as a whole: no matter the medium, time travel usually doesn’t work well in fiction.  Loose ends and paradoxes tend to pop out and distract the audience from the narrative, and inevitably it becomes a cheap way to erase some awful thing that happened earlier (a step up from those catastrophes being a dream).  Time Ninja sometimes falls victim to these issues, but it’s to Schoepp’s great credit that he shows restraint and doesn’t get tangled up in gimmick. Time Ninja is noticeably more Ninja than Time, to its benefit.

With that in mind, the catastrophe erase which happens in this book actually leads to something I ended up liking a great deal.  In his Murders trilogy, Schoepp’s hero, Detective Michael Darts, was an unfailingly stand-up guy, the sort who held doors for ladies, helped grannies cross the street, and rescued kittens stuck in trees.  Yet in his quest to make everything right, Time Ninja’s hero flips out in a rather irrational manner, and he quickly descends into the moral crossroads of Dickhead Ave. and Monster Blvd.  Things get sorted out, of course, but I really enjoyed the temporary gray area where it wasn’t quite clear if Ryu had become the villain.

Beyond all this, Time Ninja is everything I’ve come to expect from an Andy Schoepp book: supersonic action, verbose dialogue, and, of course, the banging of hot babes.  But the new elements are equally intriguing.  I’d really like to see more science fiction out of Andy Schoepp.

The Designer’s Drugs: Scarlett Thomas – Our Tragic Universe

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Scarlett Thomas – Our Tragic Universe

Anno: 2010

 

There’s a point toward the end of Our Tragic Universe where the protagonist, a disappointed author of genre fiction, advises a peer to cloak his nonfiction research in a fictional clothes.  The reason behind this proposed deception is that while most people approach nonfiction with a critical eye and aims to disprove its theories, people tend to approach fiction in the opposite direction, ready to put all the pieces together in the way that most makes sense.  It’s clear that this attitude colored the entirety of Our Tragic Universe, which is ostensibly fiction but also brings to bear many philosophical asides.  It’s in many ways a mixture of Scarlett Thomas’ previous works, mixing the crippled and frustrated storytelling of Going Out with the metaphysical and sexual End of Mr. Y. Sometimes the mixing gets a bit jarring, the narrative and human lives suddenly getting usurped by discussions on the nature of reality.

To be honest, it took me the better part of the first hundred pages of Our Tragic Universe to get behind the story.  In this opening, the author in question, a late thirties DIY chick named Meg, tromps around her small town, poking her head in and out of the local dramas of her friends and fellow esoterics.  Most of these people are a combination of frustration and insanity, usually attempting to screw, scream, or bullshit their way to a state of distraction.  It’s kind of a depressing slog at first, but as I was trying to work my way through I came to a realization.  It’s about failure. After my change in perspective, Our Tragic Universe became rather wonderful.

I should have picked up on this point earlier, when Meg recalls a vacation in which she as a child met a pair of magical – possibly mythical – people out in the middle of nowhere.  At the end of her vacation, the man of the duo tells her that she would come to nothing.  And really, this sets the tone for the remainder of the book, in that Meg’s purpose here is to discover what nothing really is and how that doesn’t have to be a negative concept.  Slowly and with the assistance of some events that may be either simple fortune or supernatural intervention – an ambiguity which is purposely unanswered – Meg begins to dispel her life’s inertia.  It’s likely that in my accepting that this book was about failure, I set myself up to be satisfied when the main character outgrows her nothingness and gives evidence that it’s never too late.

The Designer’s Drugs: Meghan McCain – Dirty Sexy Politics

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Meghan McCain – Dirty Sexy Politics

Anno: 2010

Meghan McCain’s story of her dad John’s 2008 presidential campaign is easily comparable to Danica McKellar’s math books directed toward teenage girls.  Though she admits to swearing like a sailor and falling far short of the feminine ideal put forth by her Republican Party, Meghan’s account of political life is clearly directed toward McKellar’s audience.  When she’s not taking her party to task or discussing her growing disillusionment with her old man’s campaign, McCain tends to spend her time obsessing over her hair, wardrobe, girlfriends, and the ubiquitous UGG boots which she mentions at the slightest provocation.  The title’s not exactly accurate; the Sexy in Dirty Sexy Politics is actually more about gender than hookups, but I suppose Dirty Girly Politics doesn’t have the same ring.

On the surface, getting something out of this book depends on the reader being able to do one of two things: enjoying fashion-centric tales of girls on the campaign trail, or being able to roll one’s eyes at these bits and move on.  The former isn’t for me, but McCain’s book stays on its political task enough to hold me over through the eye-rolling.

When she discusses her alienation from the Republican Party or the damage caused to her family during her dad’s 2000 campaign, McCain provides a cogent case for moving conservatism beyond its closed-minded, reactionary, and youth-dismissing current state.  While unmistakably right-wing on infrastructure issues, her views on social issues come dangerously close to liberal.  That McCain isn’t a pundit and doesn’t have a political background works to her benefit.  Some chapters feel more guarded and use more political speak than others (it’s hard for me to take seriously anyone under 30 using the phrase “young people”), but McCain tends to stick with forthrightness, without the entitled moral trolling that accompanies much of today’s popular conservative writing.

When the discussion moves to her dad’s 2008 presidential campaign, it becomes harder to agree with every point made.  Meghan is hardly objective, but that’s the point.  She provides a sympathetic insight on John McCain the person, even as she criticizes the vultures and opportunists who commandeered his campaign as it gains traction.  As could be expected, a big part of this story focuses on Sarah Palin’s running mate effect on the campaign.  While Meghan quickly sours on Palin’s blatant lunge for the limelight, she steers clear of catty tabloid trash-talking.

Those expecting slick diatribes and reinforced party lines from Dirty Sexy Politics will come away empty-handed.  More than anything, this is a tale of a girl put out of her element, expected to be a campaign prop and rebelling against it.  It doesn’t always work, but this is a nice change from the usual shouting of political literature.

The Designer’s Drugs: Mick Foley – Countdown to Lockdown

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Mick Foley – Countdown to Lockdown

Anno: 2010

The oversaturated, often ghostwritten world of the wrestler’s autobiography has been worn out since Mick Foley single-handedly created – or at least legitimized – the field.  His first of four autobiographies, titled Have a Nice Day!, was a remarkable account of pro wrestling, compiled from handwritten notebooks written in Foley’s own hand.  It remains the benchmark against which every other pro wrestler’s memoirs are judged.  Since then, Foley tends to pop up every few years with a new book of varying quality detailing his life’s recent events.

Of these follow-ups, Countdown to Lockdown finds itself in the middle of the road.  The main thrust of the book details Foley’s exodus to TNA, wrestling’s number two promotion, where the old gun attempts to deliver a solid match within a steel cage.  The days count down as Foley’s fears, insecurities, and physical condition threaten to overwhelm him, yet he pulls himself together.

The ultimate problem that plagues this book is the insecurity.  Foley’s accounts of the wrestling world are still enthralling, and it’s still really easy to get behind him in his newest adventures.  But wow, does he come off as nervous in this one.  The book’s scatterbrained tangents, bashful asides, and schoolboy shout-outs to the ladies take a heavy toll on the narrative.

As such, the best chapters in Countdown to Lockdown have nothing to do with the main story.  Foley’s account of his marginalization within and departure from the WWE, and his take on wrestling’s many casualties and tendencies toward substance abuse, feature some of the book’s boldest writing.  Foley’s criticisms of his old job, jaded fans, and the industry at large are delivered largely with fairness and without bitterness, though a few cheap shots do come out from time to time.

Another key element in the book is the description of Foley’s charitable work, both as a wrestler and outside of it.  His work with disabled kids and wounded soldiers has gone back for years, but Foley spends a lot of time in this book promoting his favorite charities, particularly his work sponsoring children in foreign countries.  It’s interesting to read about his impact upon a village in Sierra Leone, a place where the celebrity of pro wrestling doesn’t reach yet where Foley is treated as a hero.  These stories might have felt out of place in the average ghostwritten wrestling memoir, but are completely fitting alongside Foley’s optimistic style.

The Hardcore Legend's Legend

But the most notable part of this tale is, believe it or not, Tori Amos.  Though she’s been mentioned in Mick’s other books, here he devotes an entire chapter to praising the singer.  In what basically amounts to a fan letter, he breaks down the lyrics to his favorite Amos song, builds up the nerve to meet her, and then agonizes over whether he creeped her out.  It’s a strange and occasionally fawning part of the book, but one which ties in with the main narrative later on.  In the larger context, it makes sense, but the presentation could have been less starstruck.

It’s an odd, meandering piece of work, but Countdown to Lockdown should appeal to the already converted wrestling fan.  For the newcomer, however, start with his first book.  Foley’s gift for writing may not be in full force here, but it is present often enough to signify that, while his wrestling career is coming to a close, he may still have a few good books left in him.

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