Saturday, October 26, 2013

Going Down for the Count

Earlier this month Cage Thunder unmasked himself (apparently unwilling to wait for some lame-ass babyface to grow the balls to do it). He officially revealed himself to be award-winning mystery writer and YA novelist Greg Herren. As he wrote on his blog, the announcement coincided with the publication of Cage's first book, Going Down for the Count (Bold Strokes, 2013), in which Greg fictionalizes an origin story for his fictional persona. The tone and setting will be familiar to any of us familiar with BG East and Cage's ten (so far) matches there, partly because, among his many other pursuits and accomplishments, Greg often writes catalog copy for BGE (as, in the interests of full disclosure, do I sometimes).

The novel opens with a prologue in which Cage, aka Gary Harper, wrestles a loser-gets-fucked match in a motel room in West Hollywood, a match set up and photographed by Harper's ex-lover and former mentor Bill. It's a hot match with a muscular punk up for anything, calling himself Billy the Kid Weston, and he is also, apparently, Bill's latest lover and wrestling protege. The scene is erotically charged, yet tinged with Harper's world-weariness, sadness, and sense of life being wasted. Leaving, he pauses in the motel hallway and thinks to himself, "Three years of this was enough ..." 

Flashback to Harper's college years, where the story begins. Home in Corinth, Alabama, for the summer, Harper hangs with his old friends from high school, with whom he no longer has anything in common. Together they go to a local wrestling event--Harper first having felt the fires of lust watching Florida wrestling on TV at age 11--and now, at his first-ever live event, Harper feels it again ("My cock stirred inside my shorts") as a big muscular heel chokes out a pimply jobber in the ring and then makes eye contact with the college kid in the crowd. 

After the show, Harper works up the nerve to speak to the attractive wrestler, they retire to a small trailer hitched to a pickup truck, and soon he enjoys his first sexual experience with the man who will be his future lover, Bill, and, shortly thereafter, gets his wrestling name: "Cage Thunder," along with Big Bill's promise to teach him the art and science of ring wrestling. Among other things. 

From there, our protagonist and narrator enters the world of Southern (Gulf Coast) professional wrestling and eventually the highly specialized world of gay wrestling video production and private matches for hire. The plot follows the familiar trajectory of gradual disillusionment with lust and the quest for something more substantive, profound, and lasting (i.e. love). My feelings about this subject are various and inconsistent (perhaps because I've never experienced endless love), but as a narrative device in erotica it is, in our culture, damn near compulsory.

Greg's lucid style makes the emotions of his main character transparent and real, especially for those of us who share Harper's (and Greg's) feelings for wrestling. He has an eye for the telling detail and manages to express, in the most straightforward way, ideas that I might have to leap through Foucauldian hoops to articulate. The wrestling scenes are no less sexy than the sex scenes because they are both charged with the same sensibility--the thrust and pull of manly affection, the fetishization of muscle, and the drive to fulfill one's ideals of masculinity against (and inside) a truly manly body. (For me, the story resonates too on other levels of personal interest as its setting turns to Pensacola, Florida, where I taught for five years, where I first heard about BG East, BG Enterprise, Can-Am, and Old Reliable, and began ordering VHS tapes by mail.) 

People who are better at this sort of thing than I am may enjoy reading this book as a roman-a-clef, decoding character names (Gary Harper = GH = Greg Herren, obviously) and appreciating the story's veiled references to real life. As for me, when a wrestler at Can-Am (for instance) wrestles at BG East under another name, I will often not pick up on the fact that they are one and the same--or, if I do, I willfully ignore it, preferring the fantasy to the reality--but even I gathered that the handsome von Speer brothers in the novel are mirror images (even if in funhouse mirrors) of the Von Erichs of Texas wrestling in the 1980s (though, yes, "This is a work of fiction, any resemblance ...," etc.). You'll be happy to note that the roles of BG East and Kid Leopard are played by ... themselves!

Every chapter of this seductive book features erotically charged wrestling. And it's all well written without being cheesy or camp. Greg writes of the sado-violent roleplay of kink wrestling with the same explicit yet matter-of-fact style of the late John Preston in his "Master" novels of the '70s and '80s. The language is polished without being dishonest or squeamish. The conclusion seems to nip the idea of a sequel in the bud, but there are always ways of getting around conclusions like that if a sequel should ever need to be written. (Anyone ever see a Godzilla movie?) Happily, we have already been promised another novel from Cage Thunder, to be titled Muscles.

Going Down for the Count is the book I have wished for years existed. Wishes do come true. This is a book I will return to. I know it. Already I'm looking forward to a second reading. Cage Thunder slash Greg Herren speaks with a familiar and inviting voice, and I want to hear it again, talking about wrestling, talking about the love of wrestling, talking about love and wrestling. 


  1. Thanks! How very kind! So glad you liked it.

  2. I have not read Cage's epic yet. I look forward to doing so with a modicum of apprehension! Many years ago I received an exquisitely written fan letter, inspired by a magazine article about me and my varied interests and pursuits. It was from John Preston and remains among my most valued mementos.




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