cover image The Wrestler's Cruel Study

The Wrestler's Cruel Study

Stephen Dobyns. W. W. Norton & Company, $22.95 (426pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03511-7

Novelist and poet Dobyns ( After Shocks/Near Escapes ; Body Traffic ) claims further new territory in this rollicking tale that echoes the novels of John Barth, Thomas Pynchon and John Irving. In a comic symphony of voices, razor-etched characters mix it up with Manichean heresies, existential conundrums and the ephemera of wrestling lore. Wrestling hero Michael Marmaduke, who as Marduk the Magnificent dresses in white and always triumphs in the ring, searches for his chaste fiancee Rose White, who has been kidnapped from her New York City apartment by two gorilla-suited goons. Michael's mission, much of it related by his Nietzsche-quoting manager Primus Muldoon, forces him to confront such dichotomous clashes as those between good and evil, appearance and reality. Led by the movement of a much-tossed spinning coin (the image of a devil on one side, an angel on the other) that often changes hands, Michael follows a dizzying trail through darkest New York (and the shadows of his soul) in the company of his friends and ring assistants, Thrombosis and Dentata. They encounter Rose's shady twin sister Violet, who works at a cosmetic surgery institute and consorts with a slick fellow called Deep Rat; wrestlers who have quit the ring to live full-time as their ``Gimmick'' (Taurus lives in a bull ring in Brooklyn; Big Snake, having surgically acquired scales and fangs, slithers around Grand Central Station); and a host of down-and-outs whose vivid stories inhabit this manic tapestry. Despite some threads left hanging at the novel's conclusion, Dobyns's muscular prose and high-energy narration provide exhilarating reading. (Aug.)