September 25, 2003
Is Josh Jabcuga Down with Mick Foleyís TIETAM BROWN? Find out in this weekís edition of Squib Central.
Review of TIETAM BROWN by Mick Foley
TIETAM BROWN is a debut novel from Mick Foley, pro wrestling hardcore legend. Heís the three-time WWE champion, as the book jacket says. Weíve got that out of the way. Good. Now letís cast that aside and examine TIETAM BROWN as a work by a first-time novelist (although to be fair, Foley has written two mat memoirs, along with two childrenís books). Now, keeping that in mind, Iím not about to *ahem* slam a first time effort by an author. TIETAM BROWN is ultimately deeply flawed, though. Itís violent, demented, self indulgent (although what novel isnít?), andÖengaging. Thatís usually the sort of Molotov cocktail mix that I like to sip while reading on the beach, but this one is problematic from the onset.
The book is about Antietam Brown, named so after an ancestor who died on the Civil War battlefield near Antietam Creek. After losing his mother at birth, Antietam, or Andy, goes through two sets of foster care parents and a bad streak at a juvenile detention center. His stay at the detention center ends mercifully only after he is picked up by his father on his seventeenth birthday, the same man who abandoned him at birth, for a reason which is revealed later in one of the novelís many plot twists. What ensues is essentially a heartbreaking glimpse into an awfully eventful several months for young Andy, as well as flashbacks into his sexually and physically abused childhood.
Therein lies one of the novelís biggest faults. I guarantee you that by the end of reading TIETAM BROWN, you will think that everyone in the authorís universe is either a sexual predator or sexual prey. Nearly every character has some type of skeleton in their packed closets. Granted, there are people out there in the real world who, through a series of awful circumstances and setbacks, are abused in some form or another during the course of their entire lives, by various people. Foley goes overboard, though, which practically takes away from all the work that he put in establishing the character of Andy Brown.
The bookís protagonist is the strong point of the novel, thankfully. If youíve ever watched Foley on WWE Raw, at times he almost seems like a goofy, loveable lug of a man, with his Winnie the Pooh sweatpants and his trusty cotton sweatsock friend, Mr. Socko. OK, I said I wouldnít refer to the authorís past, but you canít help but see Foley in the character of Andy Brown. Andy Brown is a beautiful character who is fully realized by the work of the author. No matter what is tossed at him, and there is plenty, Andy keeps trudging forward, and trustfully, willing to forgive and forget in almost every circumstance (although even the Pope would have trouble forgiving the acts perpetrated by Andyís father).
Foley is a fan of moving the forward story, at the expense of the believability of the characters. That point is worth repeating since plot twists are this novelís greatest threat.
They happen so often that I would have to think the frequency of it is intentional, and not just a weakness of a first-time novelist. Three-quarters through, the author perfects a disturbing cadence of physical abuse-sexual abuse-physical abuse-sexual abuse, but with the subtlety of Gorgeous George performing DEATH OF A SALESMAN.
Most every character in the universe that the author paints in TIETAM BROWN, from the bottom rung up to the virtuous top of the ladder, is crying out for help. They all seem on the verge of self destruction, which is usually sped up once they come into contact with Andy or his time-bomb of a father. Andyís father seems to relish in this, while Andy just wants a decent, loving family to call his own, one that at least provides protection from the sources behind his unintentional bouts of rage, if not having stability themselves.
Without giving too much of the plot away, Andy's father decides to remove his heart from the figurative glass case that he's been hiding it in since the death of Andy's mother. Andy's dad regretfully learns that in this world, or at least in Foley's, once you expose yourself, you set yourself up for pain, hurting yourself more than anyone.
To Foleyís credit, he never once flinches. The author moves ahead with full conviction to a fitting conclusion (although by way of a disastrous bit near the end about Andyís counselor), which I suppose remains true to Foleyís violence-sex-violence-sex rhythm that he unabashedly established..
Some critics have labeled the characters in TIETAM BROWN as being cardboard stereotypes. Granted, some of the characters do seem rather convenient, as if they are mere plot devices served up on a platter, but one would be remiss if they glossed over the wonderfully three dimensional Andy Brown and his father. They are anything but stereotypes.
Other reviewers have criticized the novelís violence, saying that it made them feel uncomfortable. That was the authorís point, wasnít it? None of the novelís violence is superficial or even gratuitous. Yes, the tale is a violent one. Itís bloody, graphic, and downright gruesome at times. Thatís a real world for some people though, much like the juvenile detention center where Andy Brown comes from. The violence in the novel serves its purpose, and Foley pulls no punches.
Foley has a long way to go if he wants to be remembered for his writing skills and not his brawling skills, although Iím sure heís rightfully proud of all he has accomplished in the squared circle, which in the States is all too often seen as a testosterone fueled circus and not as the brutal ballet that it can be. In the end, the same might be said for TIETAM BROWN. Will readers see it as a gimmicky circus or as a brutal ballet? Perhaps a little of both.
Photos courtesy of MickFoley.com
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