A.B. Gayle's Reviews > Homosapien

Homosapien by Julie Bozza
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favourites, gay-fiction, humor, present-tense

After reading, and loving, four of Julie Bozza's most recent books, I had been checking this one out, but the reviews and the fact I'm not a fan of pro-wrestling made me wary of buying it.

However, I am a big admirer of Julie’s writing and her recent post into why she wrote the book made me curious: http://juliebozza.com/?p=1077

And I'm so glad I succumbed to temptation, as her story actually deals with the aspects that turn me off: the fakery, the frenetic fanfares, the fans themselves.

If you’re expecting a traditional m/m romance, this isn’t the book for you, but if you’re looking for an amusing, heart-warming, thought-provoking book this is.

While Patrick, her narrator, is awed by the romance that blossoms between his dour, idealistic, intelligent boss and his hero, a flamboyant pro-wrestler, he also explores the true nature of pro-wrestling and discovers the potentially deal-breaking fact that the fights and characters are all scripted. Note, I didn’t say “fake” and the difference is very much at the heart of the book.

Sure, the guys are excellent stunt men and the sport is potentially dangerous, however, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone should bet on the outcome of pro-wrestling matches, relying purely on technique or form. For if you did, you would be laying odds on whether you knew which way the soap opera unfolded. It would be like betting on what happened next in “Lost” or in the lives of Posh and Beck - a real life couple who carefully script what the public knows about their lives.

While the book doesn't deal with these sort of things I was reminded of many other instances that are manipulatively scripted while ostensibly being "real". For example, it’s becoming more obvious that shows like "Big Brother" are scripted. At least as far as what the producers care to show and what they don’t. Even the morning radio shows that revolve around the witty banter between two radio jocks is scripted to an extent. Just check out the comedy writers who are sometimes given credit. And another form of “script” is done in “real-life” diary blogs which sometimes even use made-up characters and include content based on comments from previous blogs all in an effort to gain maximum interest and patronage.

Because that’s what it all comes down to in the end. Bums on seats.

The pro-wrestlers' situations and storylines are manipulated to gain the most impact, whether shocking or affectionate. The viewers are also being manipulated. We love to hate just as much as we love to love.

In a way, pro-wrestling is the grown up version of clown routines at the circus. It is soap opera for men. There was even one section where the author told about how they’d performed live to differently aged groups of kids with cancer. The storyline/action changed appropriately.

Does this make it fake?

Should we care that it’s not “real”?

These are the sorts of questions that are covered in the book.

But the most telling conflict at the centre of the book is the way being a gay professional wrestler was seen as a mockery at first and then later brought out a lot of homophobic reactions from the red-neck crowds and fellow participants. This raised the question should this have been allowed to continue?

There was one brilliant quote in the book that summed up the author’s take on the situation. It came from Patrick after his eyes have been “opened”
”it occurs to me that the crowds are free to enjoy Butch and Sundance and their gay antics, because they are now beginning to know or at least guess that it’s all scripted. They don’t have to be uncomfortable about it, they can just cheer or (preferably, in this case) boo to their hearts’ content……because the mob just might find themselves enjoying all this queerness, and that might just painlessly widen out to an acceptance of real queerness before anyone notices.”
The writing style is worthy of comment as well. As a writer, I tried to picture other ways the subject could have been handled. For current day scenes, it even starts out in past tense and switches to present tense. We are given part of the story as reconstructed dialogue between two people and the narrator wasn’t present at the time. Patrick addresses the reader, yet fails to give insight into his own personal life at the time. Yet what happens to him is also ultimately affected by the pro-wrestling scene. These sorts of things might turn off some readers, but I loved the sheer audacity of it. Much like people either do or don’t like the flamboyance of pro-wrestling.

The themes of “Good versus Bad” and “Us versus Them” also formed a thread in the book.

None of these themes are “told” to us. We have to pay attention and see them ourselves, although the way Julie (or should I say the owner of WWW, Jack Dynes) switched to The Fallen vs The Righteous was an interesting twist. As Patrick says:
It’s all heat, whether it’s cheering or jeering, and heat’s a good thing. Heat is what they want.”
In the end, this is what the story is all about. Giving people what they want. Not necessarily what they need. Or it is, if what they need is a bit of passion in their lives. A bit of excitement.

I really enjoyed the book both on a visceral and intellectual level. Those only looking for the former might be frustrated that we aren’t given the story in traditional format, but I doubt the theme could have been explored so effectively if we were. At times, I was reminded of Jane Davitt’s Hourglass which deals with two men who appear in a TV show together.

Julie ends off with a statement:
”Wrestling’s more than just violence or a soap opera or a parody. It’s a postmodern phemomenon.
It is definitely worth thinking about this while reading it. See how many times we, as viewers or readers, are manipulated into reacting a certain way. With the instant feedback of TV ratings, being able to measure Youtube and Facebook “likes” and website “hits” those who manipulate or write the “scripts” can tweak them to gain maximum effect.

These sorts of stories deserve to be read more. Thank you, Julie for writing it.

Edited to add: I asked Julie about the tense changes and she said: Yes, the tense changes were indeed deliberate. Partly they were due to Patrick not being a ‘proper’ writer himself. Also, my hope was that they’d make those particular scenes more dynamic, more ‘happening right now’, and therefore were part of my solution to how to present pro wrestling on the written page.
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Reading Progress

July 6, 2013 – Started Reading
July 6, 2013 – Shelved
July 6, 2013 –
page 55
19.78% "After reading four of Julie's books, I'd been wondering whether I dared read this one as I am not a fan of pro-wrestling. But after reading this blog post, I bought it. So glad I did because I am "buying it" http://juliebozza.com/?p=1077\n I recently write something using this quirky narrative style, speaking to the reader, and it was fun. I'll say more about why I think it worked perfectly afterwards."
July 8, 2013 –
page 152
54.68% "I'm really enjoying this book. It's making me think about a lot of instances where so-called reality is manipulated to enertain the masses. More of that in my review."
July 10, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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message 1: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie Bozza AB! What an awesome review! Thank you so much for bringing a whole heart and an enquiring mind to my stories.

message 2: by A.B. (last edited Jul 09, 2013 03:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

A.B. Gayle The thing is that you give me so much to feed on. But you realise that I can't get that song out of my brain now...."I'm the shy boy, you're the coy boy....."

A.B. Gayle And it made me seek out my "Hot August Nights" album.

message 4: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie Bozza A.B. wrote: "And it made me seek out my "Hot August Nights" album."

LOL!!! {dusts off hands} Then my job here is done.

A.B. Gayle And I have always wondered how guys who are so typically incapable of expressing themselves romantically in writing can do so in songs such as "Sweet Caroline" And the reverse is true, could you imagine a female doing a version "Sweet Love of Mine" Yuck....

A.B. Gayle And "Solitary Man" sheer poetry. Maybe that's the answer they can write poetry but not prose.

message 7: by Danny (last edited Jul 09, 2013 11:44AM) (new) - added it

Danny Tyran Really excellent review! You know (no you don't), my little brother was a wrestler when he was just seven-year-old. Yeah! Absolutely true. Spectators loved to see the little boys play their part as the Good and the Evil. My little brother loved to play the evil one. lollll He put his whole little boy's heart in it. And sometimes, he didn't follow the script because he liked to win.

That's very different to watch a wrestling show when one of your family members is on the arena. You see the guys more like human beings.

I found this sentence of your review frightening:
"With the instant feedback of TV ratings, being able to measure Youtube and Facebook “likes” and website “hits” those who manipulate or write the “scripts” can tweak them to gain maximum effect."

I know this is true but what frightens me is that we risk to have only canned show from now on. I am not looking forward the lowest common denominator reproduced by hundreds with only little differences that the shows don't look too much similar.

message 8: by Don (new)

Don Schecter Thanks A.B. for another incisive review. And kudos to Julie for writing fiction that informs rather than titillates.

message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

You knew I was going to say something about this, didn't you??

Every fan of pro-wrestling knows the script. It's part of the enjoyment of the "sport" and the OTT melodrama and showmanship is exactly why Vince McMahon has made a fortune. "Good Guy" v. "Baddie" with the audience cheering or booing their antics gets the spectators involved and invested in the outcome. He's PT Barnum's offspring, playing on people's enjoyment of the obvious, the parochial, the "con" that *wink wink* we are all in on.

Your review ignores some of the very real and interesting social commentary that underlies a lot of the obvious mustache twirling in pro wrestling. To see it all as scripted surface entertainment really misses a big piece of why it is so popular with such a wide audience.

Also, I would disagree that pro wrestling is a post-modern phenomenon, unless you want to call Punch and Judy shows "post modern". Entertainers have responded and adjusted their canned scripts to please their audience since forever. We do it differently with TV and FB than with a show in front of a live people, but the basics are the same.

message 10: by A.B. (last edited Jul 10, 2013 08:26PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

A.B. Gayle Kate wrote: "You knew I was going to say something about this, didn't you??

Every fan of pro-wrestling knows the script. It's part of the enjoyment of the "sport" and the OTT melodrama and showmanship is exac..."

To be fair, Kate, you're commenting here on my review rather than the book itself. And some of the "errors" you're pointing out are possibly due to my interpretation or factors that arose in my brain when I read it.

Julie clearly states that some of the crowd "got it" but she claims that some didn't or simply refused to. My quote above hints at the way social agendas can and are being addressed either consciously or inadvertantly.

My introduction of shows like "Lost" might have also clouded the issue as they weren't brought up at all in the book which was first published on January 1st 2003.

I referred to that in my review to give current readers a handle to relate to.

Perhaps today's wrestling watching crowd are more knowledgeable. I don't know enough about American wrestling and its fans to know what the situation was back then.

The point is more that in the era the book was set some people didn't know, some people refused to know, some knew and were appalled and some knew and were entertained or could see the advantages of using this medium to carry out certain agendas.

I liked your analogy to Punch and Judy shows. That one hadn't occurred to me but is very apt.

As is pantomime.

I'm not even sure what post-modern refers to. I took it as a recent social trend. (Recent as in back in 2003)

My review only touched on some of the many instances that Julie mentioned.

Interestingly, Wikipedia states:Historians are unsure at what point wrestling changed from competitive catch wrestling into worked entertainment. Those who participated felt that maintenance of a constant and complete illusion for all who were not involved was necessary to keep audience interest. For decades, wrestlers lived their public lives as though they were their characters.

Gradually, the predetermined nature of professional wrestling became an open secret, as prominent figures in the wrestling business (including World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon) began to publicly admit that wrestling was entertainment, not competition. This public reveal has garnered mixed reactions from the wrestling community, as some feel that exposure ruins the experience to the spectators as does exposure in illusionism. Despite the public admission of the theatrical nature of professional wrestling, many U.S. states still regulate professional wrestling as they do other professional competitive sports.

And in a thread here http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/s... it appears that Anyway, if memory serves, it was about the mid-1990's that it was all brought out in the open. It coincided with wrestling's expanding popularity and DVD's being made about the individual wrestlers with out-of-character interviews, talking about storylines, career paths, etc.

There's no reference to when this book is supposedly set, but given the "coming out" nature of the story, I'd say mid-nineties would be a comfortable fit.

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

I think the transition was more in the mid-1980's. Hulk Hogan was one of the early cult figures and the theater of the whole thing was becoming obvious at that point. In fact, I'd say the rise in popularity of pro wrestling had a lot to do with him and his TV/movie appeal. McMahon took the "sport" from small, down-market entertainment to big money venues and made it more about the show and the buff bodies somewhere in the 1990's.

And yes, I was responding to the social commentary and not the book which I haven't read.

message 12: by A.B. (new) - rated it 5 stars

A.B. Gayle Well, as I said, there are no dates in the book. The two songs mentioned date from 1981 and 1972 so even mid-eighties would be possible for the book's timeline.

message 13: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie Bozza A.B. wrote: "And "Solitary Man" sheer poetry. Maybe that's the answer they can write poetry but not prose."

These are very interesting questions to ponder, and I certainly do so when writing my romances... We are told that men aren't so great at expressing themselves and aren't as emotional as women, but how then do we explain all the centuries of novels, poetry, letters and so on that men have given us, right on through to the text messages my husband sends me when he's away? Not to mention the passionate 'real life' love affairs that have taken place in the public eye. I still don't go as far as I feel I legitimately could, in what I have my heroes say and do - but I feel there's far more room for manoeuvre than what is dictated by 'common wisdom'!

message 14: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie Bozza Don wrote: "Thanks A.B. for another incisive review. And kudos to Julie for writing fiction that informs rather than titillates."

Thank you very much, Don! That is high praise indeed. :-)

message 15: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie Bozza A.B. wrote: "Well, as I said, there are no dates in the book. The two songs mentioned date from 1981 and 1972 so even mid-eighties would be possible for the book's timeline."

Just FYI, I dubbed this novel a 'fantasy' in the subtitle partly because I wanted to set it outside the existing world of pro wrestling, and explore various aspects of the situation without having to pay strict attention to actual timelines, and so on. Though as you and Kate surmise, I was drawing on things that were happening in the late 80s and 90s.

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