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The Wrestler's Cruel Study

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  277 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
Fun and puns mingle with daring make-believe. Larger-than-life characters play out the crucial human questions: How do we live? How do we handle our demons?
Paperback, 432 pages
Published February 17th 1995 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1993)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Dec 04, 2013 Sean rated it liked it
If two and a half stars were possible that's what I'd give this book. But's not so I'll curve it up to three. Here's what I liked:

It's written in the third person omniscient but often makes mention to "you" or "we" or "us", especially when it comes to establishing location:

"We are focused on a brown, gelatinous substance and we see strange movements from within its depths. It contains in fact various shades of brown with a blackness at the center. The movements seem caused by powerful
Jul 14, 2007 Keith rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors. "Wrester's Cruel Study" reveals that the melodramatic world of professional wrestling is rigged by a group of philosophers, playing out their philosophical arguments with oiled-up musclemen in the ring. Bizarre ancient snake cults, Nietzche-like managers, and a mostly-innocent main character trying to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend-- what more could you want?
Apr 28, 2010 Aaron rated it liked it
Hold the line and stop talking about bullshit completely ancillary to the main plotline, which is the interesting plotline, maybe the ONLY interesting plotline. Don't let the need to demonstrate conclusively that we are all a latticework of overlapping gimmickry and that we are always at war with these gimmicks lure or detour you into silly digressions about a magical coin or that terrible, retrograde miniplot about the dude with the humorless and emasculating wife. This book is a very ...more
Oct 12, 2008 Terra rated it it was amazing
This is one of my all-time, top five, favorite books ever, and I found it by accident in a used bookstore. It has everything including the kitchen sink in it, and I'm pretty sure does a better job of explaining the way the universe really works than anything else I've ever read.
Jun 21, 2007 Valerie rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: people that have trouble sleeping
Shelves: notworthit
Dec 04, 2013 Lisa rated it did not like it
I threw this book across the room when I was done, which was a first for me. Reading the other reviews, I'm an obvious minority, but I found the story and its resolution unsatisfying, and it pissed me off greatly.

The story's set in NYC, but one could be forgiven for thinking that it took place in Smalltown, U.S.A., because the same 15 or so supposed strangers constantly bump into each other and unknowingly affect each other's lives. I realize there was supposed to be a degree of surrealism in t
Sep 18, 2016 Brad marked it as to-read
Shelves: unfinished
Thought this was the autobiography of Hulk Hogan! WTF, man. What a jip.

Maybe I'll finish it later. See if Roddy Piper can beat those skeleton people that he sees with his magic sunglasses.
Jim Leckband
May 21, 2015 Jim Leckband rated it really liked it
I'm of two minds about this book. On the one hand, it is a wonderfully funny book about a pro wrestler wrestling with who he really is. Is he the mask (or "the Gimmick") or is he the man under the mask, or is he both or neither? The escapades (and they are escapades) that our Hero of a Thousand Faces (Michael Marmaduke or Marduk the Magnificent) must go through to retrieve his Pauline in Peril (actually "Rose White" (or is she "Violet White" or "Snow White"?)) are hilarious and appropriately ...more
Sep 01, 2014 Jose rated it it was ok

This is not a good story. It is arguably a great book, though. Stephen Dobyns demonstrates narrative mastery by riffing philosophy, by having fun with focalization, by introducing bizarre scenarios and characters, by having them interact in weird and unexpected ways, and by constantly breaking the fourth wall and challenging the reader to consider what it is we like and dislike about fiction. Michael Marduk's journey to find his kidnapped fiancee is one big farce, and we're never told why
Robert Wechsler
Mar 20, 2013 Robert Wechsler rated it really liked it
A great joy, perfect intellectual entertainment. The plot is of little importance. It is a mix of mystery and quest, but there isnt much mystery about whodunit, and what happened seems to matter little to the protagonist. What the novel is is an excuse for Dobyns to play with words and ideas.

The novel ends up, more than anything, being about good and evil and what might lie beyond them, which appears to be more good and evil, and in the end gray areas, which is what each of us actually is. Not
Jul 19, 2008 Matt rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most wonderfully Dadaist books I've ever encountered. Gorillas, detectives, a kidnapping, and warring tribes of urban Gnostics who secretly control professional wrestling. Satan vs. Santa. An evil twin. Rogue pro wrestlers, who have become their personas in the ring-- Ogre, Taurus, The Great Father Snake. Marduk the Magnificent. The False Marduk.

The prose and characters are really enjoyable, and although this book probably should be an entertaining mess, it rises above that. I
Aug 06, 2010 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Live dangerously," Dobyns says, and he proceeds to tell the story in appropriately reckless fashion. It's weird, wild, ambitious and fun, but it's a book at war with itself, espousing brilliantly on human nature one moment then doling out the amusing shenanigans of cardboard characters the next. In the author's assured hands this works better than it has a right to, especially as his narrator hopstotches from plot tangent to plot tangent with a postmodern wink that tells you he's making much of ...more
Oct 30, 2007 Scott rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: wrestlers and absurdists
Shelves: novel
Professional wrestling mixed with Gnostic traditions set in NYC's "underground". The main man Marduk the Magnificent, wrestler of more than men, is built up and torn down as he tries to find his girlfriend after she is abducted by men in gorilla suits. That sounds absolutely horrendous, but somehow I was quite entertained. Plus the reader is treated to characters like wrestling brothers Prime Rib, Prime Rate, and Prime Time, and others with likely names like Wally Wallski. Muldoon, the wrestling ...more
Mar 28, 2010 Larry rated it really liked it
A fun, wacky read mixing pro-wrestling, Nietzsche, and esoteric Christian theology. Dobyns uses an intriguing narrative voice, a bit like the narrator of Gravity's Rainbow in that it seems to be describing a movie or a script to us. The book is, perhaps, a bit too self-consciously wacky and Dobyns doesn't use this material as well as the latter novels of Phil Dick do, but then, it's hard to imagine anyone beating Dick on that turf.
Jul 22, 2009 Richard rated it it was amazing
Shelves: so-glad-i-read
This book is just astounding - I may have read it three times, possibly a record for a book that I've never taught. This book is wise and philosophical and bawdy and inventive and just plain fucking funny, much like a lot of of Dobyns' great poetry. THIS is the film that should have brought back Mickey Rourke--a professional wrestler goes on a hunt for his missing girlfriend, but of course the hunt becomes one of his own identity, and professional wrestling's place in the world of identity.
Jan 16, 2013 Scott marked it as to-read
Shelves: quit
Forgot to mention that I gave up on this. Not necessarily bad, but life is causing too long of a gap between opportunities to read right now, and this is NOT the kind of book suitable to such circumstances. Would like to come back to it when/if I ever get a good enough chunk of time to devour it more wholly. Right now there are far too many characters and plot points for me to keep track of when I can't pick it up every day.
Dec 13, 2009 Jim rated it liked it
Recommends it for: vonnegrut fans and literate fiction-loving wrestling fans
This was a hysterical book. Nothing to be taken seriously, but very entertaining look at life through the ideas of a Poser Pro Wrestler surrounded by Gnostic thinkers, seedy NY'ers, Gumshoe Detectives, Present tense or has been Wrestlers and there fans. I may not have been able to sit through this book had I not read A Man In Full. This book read more like a Vonnegrut and I was expecting more of an Irvine Welch approach.
Mar 10, 2007 Angie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Nietzsche fans
Shelves: quirky-fantasy
I bought this book at City Lights Bookstore during my first trip to San Francisco.
Though not a student of philosophy (nietzche was mentioned numerous times) for some reason, this novel stayed with me.The idea that good and evil was controlled by higher beings thru the use of WWF wrestlers was so absurd, it worked. Damed pissed that I lent it to a friend and never got it back!
Rachel K
Apr 06, 2012 Rachel K rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-reread
I read this book years ago, and still think of it often. I've been reading the reviews on this site, and it seems that those that gave it only 2 or 3 stars really didn't get it. It's OK guys, you just need to go back and read a whole bunch of fairy tales and different versions of fairy tales, and it will all start to make a lot more sense. This book is brilliant.
Seth Miller
Jul 12, 2012 Seth Miller rated it liked it
like so far, but i'm only a couple pages in. Edit: didn't finish it, and most likely won't. It was ok, but I couldn't tell what tone it was trying to have, etc. It was just one of those books that you hit a roadblock while reading, and then you put it down and would rather pick something else up. Which I did and loved.

Edit: didn't finish, never will.
Jerry Rocha
Oct 05, 2015 Jerry Rocha rated it it was amazing
Fucking great. As someone one who grew up on pro wrestling, this book can be seen as either a mockery or a love letter and that theme of duality is everywhere.

It's full of great characters and it's never not funny. Get on this good shit now.
Feb 04, 2014 April rated it really liked it
One of the oddest books I've ever read. LOVED IT! Using professional wrestling as a platform for complex philosophical concepts is crazy and smart. I thoroughly enjoyed this book although I wouldn't recommend it to everyone because a lot of people just wouldn't get it.
Jul 19, 2007 Jrobertus rated it really liked it
this is one of the few books i have read twice. very funny and very intellectual (albeit long). it is a surreal morality tale exploring nietzhian philosophy.
Nov 23, 2007 Elizabeth rated it liked it
"Remove the mask and we find another mask. Peel the onion and there is always more until at last there is nothing - just a smell on the fingers and a tear in the eye."
Joshua Seprodi
Jun 28, 2009 Joshua Seprodi rated it it was amazing
The greatest philosophical black comedy ever.

The Santa vs. Satan fight is the only passage in a book ever to make me laugh aloud.
Leonard Pierce
Dec 16, 2007 Leonard Pierce rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Amazing, funny, well-done book combining pro wrestling and theology, by a guy usually known for his mystery novels.
Jun 01, 2014 Ryan rated it really liked it
It is an incredibly ambitious book. Parts of the narrative bog under the weight of the premise, but I do recommend it.
Dec 14, 2011 Adam rated it liked it
Certain sections of this book I enjoyed quite a lot, but the repetitive nature of the descent into the underground wore on me at times
Jun 28, 2012 Durrell rated it really liked it
If only the WWE were this entertaining. In just one scene a midget former wrestler uses a giant clown head shaped water cannon to break-up a pro Nietzsche protest.
Rachael rated it really liked it
May 05, 2008
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Dobyns was raised in New Jersey, Michigan, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. He was educated at Shimer College, graduated from Wayne State University, and received an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1967. He has worked as a reporter for the Detroit News.

He has taught at various academic institutions, including Sarah Lawrence College, the Warren Wilson College MFA Program
More about Stephen Dobyns...

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