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Book Review: Mick Foley's Tietam Brown, August 28, 2003
Guest_TSMAdmin_*
post Oct 6 2003, 07:51 PM
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There are few times when I wish I'd never heard of Mick Foley. As I worked my way through Tietem Brown, there were several of those moments.

Mick Foley was one of my favourite wrestlers back in the late 90s, and he has been in some of the most emotional matches I've seen. When he released his first book, "Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks", I was unconvinced that it would be any good. Nearly every autobiography I have read has been ghostwritten, bland, generic crap. However, this was different. This was GOOD. It was genuinely funny, moving and well written, and set the standard for wrestling books.

Foley's second book, "Foley is Good (and the real world is faker than wrestling)" was a slight letdown, as he went into some preachy rants, but was still better than I could have expected from a wrestler.

Writing fact and fiction are two different things though, and so I wasn’t sure what Tietam Brown, Foley's first novel, would be like.

The story is of a boy called Antietam ("Andy") Brown, who is reunited with his father after a childhood in foster care. Andy's mother died during childbirth, and his father (The title's Tietam Brown) is a serial womanizer, who regularly weightlifts nude.

Andy suffers from something he calls The Rage, which is where everything around him has pissed him off to such an extent that he snaps. And when he snaps, bad things happen. The Rage usually happens in flashback chapters, which look at young Andy and his horrible experiences in care. And believe me, these experiences are pretty horrible. Without getting into spoilers, there's one or two moments that will have you wincing in pain.

Really, that's how the book progresses – a lot of horrible extreme violence and sex. This is where the book gets weird, to be honest, because there's not a lot of material in between the sex and violence, and what is there is only used to set the scene for more sex and violence.

I have no problem with either of those things in a book, but to make a wrestling comparison: The book is like the start of the Mankind / Undertaker Hell in a Cell match. There's the big moments that will be remembered, but the bits in between, which are equally important, aren't really all that good.

It's a shame, because the plot is clever, but it just isn't carried off well. All the ideas are there, but they flow really badly into one another. For some reason, there's page after page of nothing happening, and then a lot can happen in three lines.

Foley also only seems really comfortable writing about himself (no matter how indirectly) and things that he knows well. The lead character, Andy, has only one ear, and his father used to be a professional wrestler, something that is described in great length. There are also references to the Civil War – indeed, Antietam is named for one of the battles that his elder relative died in. There's also a little bit about a rollercoaster; another one of Foley's favourite things. All of these things detracted from the story for me, as it just felt like Foley writing about his life.

The main reason that, as I said earlier, I wish I didn't know about Mick Foley, and in particular that I hadn't read either of his other books, is that Andy Brown IS Mick Foley. Tietam Brown is written in the first person, and with the exact same style that HAND and Foley is Good are. There are little Foleyisms that anyone who has read the other books will recognise – things like

" What's wrong? Oh you don't think Barry is appropriate for such an occasion? Sure, it might not have been my first choice, or even in my top couple hundred. And true, the sky blue jumpsuit Barry sported on the cover of the live album, or eight-track in this case, may have been a tad inappropriate. But don't try denying that "Mandy" and "Could It Be Magic" are classic compositions that still hold up well today."

The first chapter is included in full at the end of this review.

There are some moments that come straight from a wrestling storyline, such as the part where (and again, I'll avoid spoilers, since I'm assuming you haven't read the book) one character walks away from another, then hits him over the back of the head with a chair.

I've heard that Foley wanted to make a commentary on social attitudes to violence. This is an admirable aim, but the book is just too extreme to make the point very well – Comparable to a book that tries to make a point about how much people swear, by having the lead character say "fuck" as every other word. Exaggeration doesn't help, especially when it is as extreme as in Tietam Brown.

In short, the book is okay. The extreme violence and rape will be off-putting to some people, whereas the bitty writing style will put others off. Overall though, it is worth sticking with, despite the ending being a let down (and the last chapter being REALLY weird.)

Check it out. You'll either be repulsed or enthralled, and there's not a lot more you can ask for from a book. Sure, there are bad parts, but it's a fun little book.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Send your feedback to me: [email protected]

Nik
The caption contest will be back with my column next week

The complete first chapter of Tietam Brown, as originally posted at amazon.com:

October 23, 1985

She had wanted me to kiss her. No doubt about it. The realization hit me as I navigated my dad's '79 Fairmont through the back roads of Conestoga, New York, a small town about thirty miles south of Binghamton.

To tell the truth, a high school senior with one functioning hand really had no business operating a motor vehicle in the first place, let alone a one-functioning-hand high school senior without a license or even a half a thimbleful of experience behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, my father had refused to drive me. Not out of meanness, however--no, my dad felt like he was doing me a favor. "Hey Andy, a kid only goes on one first date," he'd said. "You've gotta make it count. Besides, kid, it's kind of tough to cop a feel in the backseat when you've got your old man behind the wheel." Maybe it was that last bit of paternal sentiment that sold me on the driving idea, and at approximately 7:40 p.m. on a cool autumn evening, I held the door open for Miss Terri Lynn Johnson as she slipped ever so gracefully into the cracked burgundy interior of the piece-of-crap Fairmont that my dad had insisted on lending me. No, a feel was not copped on that night, nor was one even attempted, but that didn't make the night any less glorious, because after all . . . she had wanted me to kiss her. And that was a fact, or at least a pretty strong gut feeling that was worth celebrating . . . with music.

A red light at the intersection of Elm and Broadhurst, only a half a mile from Conestoga High, where I'd met Terri only six weeks earlier, gave me the respite from my driving duties that was necessary in selecting the perfect postrevelatory music. Unfortunately, even a red-light respite isn't much good when trying to fumble with some clunky old eight-tracks with a hand that hasn't closed, clasped, grabbed, or done anything meaningful since Gerald Ford was in office.

I had barely managed to clear my dad's blue fuzzy dice from the glove box when the light turned green. Yeah, my dad had fuzzy dice all right, only they didn't usually reside in the glove box. No, those bad boys swung proudly from the rearview, and served to separate my dad's machine from all other pieces-of-crap '79 Fairmonts on the road. So with the light instructing me to go, and a late-model Ford pickup truck's blaring horn adding to the urgency of such a moment, I reached into the glove box with my left hand, the good hand, and pulled out the first eight-track I felt. Then, with a hint of defiance, I popped that mother in, pushed my curly dark hair back in the general vicinity of where my right ear used to be, and stepped on the gas, as the opening strains of Barry Manilow Live drowned out both the horn of the Ford and the shouts of the driver within.

What's wrong? Oh you don't think Barry is appropriate for such an occasion? Sure, it might not have been my first choice, or even in my top couple hundred. And true, the sky blue jumpsuit Barry sported on the cover of the live album, or eight-track in this case, may have been a tad inappropriate. But don't try denying that "Mandy" and "Could It Be Magic" are classic compositions that still hold up well today. Jumpsuit or no jumpsuit, they held up just fine on that night in 1985, and as my voice joined Barry's in belting out, "Baby, I love you now, now, now, and hold on fast, could this be the magic at last," I reflected back on what was at that point the greatest night of my young life.

Terri was several leagues out of my ballpark. Not that I was a horrible-looking guy or anything, but a missing ear and a useless hand tend to cramp a guy's style at that age, and the style-cramping perpetuated itself in an awkward shyness that had invited a lifetime of bullies to boost their self-esteem, or at least try to, at my expense. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes, as I'll explain later, they didn't. Come to think of it, a lifetime of foster homes, orphanages, and juvenile detention centers hadn't done a whole lot for my sense of self, either.

Terri, on the other hand, was drop-dead gorgeous. Just a beautiful creature. Her beauty was beyond compare, with flaming locks of auburn hair, ivory skin, and eyes of emerald green. Actually, that description is straight out of the Dolly Parton song "Jolene," but that was Terri. Statuesque, but not slutty like some of the other girls who graced Conestoga's halls, she carried herself with a maturity that belied her years. It was really only on game days, when the cheerleading squad sported their official blue-and-orange Conestoga cheerleading sweaters, that her physical attributes really screamed for attention. And in doing so, made me think of the word "maturity" in a whole new light.

She literally could have had her pick of any boy she wanted. Any man for that matter. Her father headed up the local Assembly of God, where his fiery demeanor and hell-and-brimstone sermons contrasted sharply with her gentle nature and overall acceptance of everyone not as fortunate as herself--which pretty much meant everyone.

Her father's vocation, combined with her natural gifts, had given birth to a rather unusual challenge that was spoken of in almost reverent tones among the boys at Conestoga High. No one, it seemed, had gotten into Terri Johnson's pants, or for that matter anywhere even remotely close. Personally, I found the whole subject of Terri's pants to be disrespectful. A creature as beautiful as she deserved better than to have her pants, and what was underneath them, a subject of horny teenage speculation, let alone a prize to be claimed.

How we got together is beyond me. It was actually all her doing. It was she who laughed at my first dumb joke in Mr. Hanrahan's social studies class. It was she who had gone out of her way to say "Hi Andy" in the halls. It was she who insisted on studying together in the library, where she showed off such unique talents as wiggling her nose and ears while I fell hopelessly in love. I know, you're not supposed to fall that quickly, and that the L word should be used sparingly, if at all, during the high school years. But in the fall of 1985 with Terri Lynn Johnson in the library, between the wiggling nose and ears and the sweater, and the wonders that lie beneath the blue-and-orange wool, my heart offered very little resistance. I was a goner. A one-eared, one-handed goner.

And in the one day it took from when Terri asked me to the movies until the entire student body of Conestoga High found out, I went from being a nobody to being the most hated kid in school.

Sure, it was Terri who had laid the foundation for that first date, but in my own defense, it was I who acted on it, and went into overdrive in order to give this vision of loveliness a date she would never forget. The other young lovers were heading to the new mall over by the river, to "the Seven Valley Twelve," as the theaters were officially known, but I had different plans. The Twelve may have been new, enriched with stereophonic sound and equipped with a state-of-the-art snack bar that served different foods from around the globe, but it didn't have the character of the century-old Lincoln Theater, named after, you got it, President Lincoln, who would soon go on to play an unlikely but important role in my life. Yes, when it came to a first date, nothing came close to character as a prerequisite. Except for price, which of course was miles ahead of that whole character thing, especially for a guy who'd come into town with exactly nineteen bucks to his name. My financial woes looked to be easing soon, courtesy of a glamorous minimum-wage dishwashing job at Frank 'n' Mary's diner, a venerable establishment that was home to a myriad of small-town life-forms, from blue-collar locals, to drunk college kids, to on-the-road truckers who needed a little shot of caffeine or cholesterol.

So with my finances in mind, the Lincoln's 85-cent admission made even the specter of seeing Rambo: First Blood Part II on a first date sound pretty good. The Lincoln's price policy, you see, was derived directly from whatever year happened to be taking place. In 1984, the price was 84 cents; in '85, it was 85. Guess what it was in '83? If you guessed 83 cents you'd be wrong. Back in '83 when the Lincoln was still the only game in town, a flick cost four bucks, but with the advent of the multiplex, the ancient cinematic institution was forced to make changes to survive. They stopped showing first-run movies. They lowered their prices. They cut down on the variety of candy and on the freshness of the popcorn. And they stopped doing the little things, like cleaning the floor.

So the result after spending $1.70 on two admissions, and the total of $3.50 on two Cokes and a medium popcorn that we decided we'd share, I escorted the most beautiful girl I had ever seen into a dingy cave of a theater, where she would see a plethora of people perish on-screen in the ensuing ninety-five minutes. But her smile never waned, and she somehow managed to be the picture of class, even as a previously chewed piece of gum formed a bond with her designer jeans, and her slim and gorgeous feet got acquainted with a floor that had known no mop in quite some time.

My mind began to wander at about the time the eleventh person died in the first coming-attraction preview. My father had been so happy for me on the eve of my first date. He had wanted to make sure that everything was perfect. The car had been a very nice gesture, fuzzy dice or no fuzzy dice. "Andy, my boy," he'd said with a big grin and an "I've got a secret" wink in his eye, and a secretive hand held behind his back. "Hold out your hand and close your eyes and I'll give you a big surprise." So I held out my hand and closed my eyes, and I'll be damned if my father didn't give me a big surprise. "Just a little something to make sure that you and your girl have a good time tonight," he said with a laugh that sounded as if it had been lifted from a used car salesman.

When I first closed my hand around my dad's surprise and felt the rustle and crinkle, I had a premonition that a ten-dollar bill had found its way into my hand. My premonition was wrong. A ten-dollar bill would have placed me and Terri inside the Seven Valley Twelve, where people on the screen might actually do things besides kill each other. A ten-dollar bill would have spared Terri the union of her ass and a wad of chewing gum. But it was not to be.

I moved my foot slightly and found it nearly glued to the floor. At that point I experienced what can only be called a flashback, as the sticking of my shoe at the Lincoln gave way to the memory of the sticking of my shoe at the Pussycat Cinema in eastern Pennsylvania two months earlier, although I'd be willing to bet that the substances causing the stickiness were altogether different.

The Pussycat had been my dad's idea, when he showed up at the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center near Richmond on my seventeenth birthday, after an absence from my life of only sixteen years and nine months. I'd received a postcard a few months earlier that in its entirety read, "See you in a few . . . Dad." A few. I had no idea what "a few" meant, so I waited a few hours, then a few days, then a few months, and then finally, on the day of my release, without a clue as to what to do with the rest of my life, I set eyes on my father, Antietam Brown IV. "Come on, kid," was all he said. "I'm taking you home."

I had no idea the "home" of which he spoke meant Conestoga, New York. Home to me had always been Virginia, with the exception of my life's first three months, which had been spent in a suburb of Tampa, until my dad got tired of the Mr. Mom routine and shipped me off.

We drove on through Maryland that first night, with my dad insisting that I drink my first beer, and then my second, and so on and so forth until I was so drunk that his words became increasingly incoherent, which was probably a good thing. He said nothing about his work, and even less about my mom, opting instead to spend our inaugural night together regaling me with details about his past sexual conquests. As the miles flew by and the beers, at his urging, flew south, those details became fuzzier and fuzzier, until the fuzzy dice started spinning in unison with my stomach and I mustered the fortitude to blurt out, "Pull over," which my dad did a split second before those birthday beers came barreling up my throat, and into the green grass and wildflowers that bordered that particular section of Highway 95.

"Thatta boy," my dad laughed as the vomiting process reached its conclusion, and a thick stew of spit and puke adorned my chin, like some strange new goatee. "Never let it be said that ol' Tietam Brown doesn't know how to show his son a good time!" Then, after a pause, "I'm proud of you, boy," with a rugged slap on the back for added emphasis.

The Pussycat Cinema was the first thing I saw when I awoke that next day. "Look over there, kid," my dad said as the Fairmont screeched to a stop, kicking up a cloud of dust and jolting me awake to find that I was in the middle of nowhere, with a massive headache and the vile taste of stale vomit to remind me of my Happy Birthday.

"Where?" I asked, which seemed an appropriate response, as from my vantage point, all I could see was a ramshackle trailer enhanced by the timeless beauty of a rusted-out Pinto on cement blocks on display in what passed for a front yard. "Not there, kid . . . there," he said, and with that he was out the door and headed for the Pussycat at a trot. I followed suit, afraid to be seen but a little intrigued.
Copyright© 2003 by Mick Foley
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