Enter the sweaty grime of underground professional wrestling. Here you will find sharp and blunt objects manipulated into faux-weapons. Here you will find angles and inches, the measurement of which is useless if you actually want to enjoy the atmosphere. Here you will find dark corners and blood capsules, both of which hide secrets. Here you will find costumes, gimmicks, and masks all covering something but creating something else. Here you will find Chavo Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, and Bruiser Brody, all grimaced and steeled while their lives lurk in the place between the narratives they have woven and the narratives they find themselves within.
Enter now the apocalyptic shudder of the Trace Italian. Here you will find impenetrable star-forts and overgrown tree gnarls. Here you will find underground bunkers carefully rationed but void of any survivors. Here you will find bridges cracked in half like wafers, dangling listlessly on support wires. Here you will find emptiness and isolation. Here you will find one person, maybe two, moving forward toward safety while their lives lurk in the place between the narratives they have woven and the narratives they find themselves within.
Enter now into the mind of John Darnielle, and you have entered each of these places. Darnielle is the lead singer of the Mountain Goats and a minted novelist (his most recent novel, Wolf in White Van, was long listed for the National Book Award). But more than that, he is a storyteller. Not the kind of storyteller who strains to tell stories that relate, but the kind of story-teller who simply tells stories and lets you decide how to live in them.
So even if you’ve never, say, watched a professional wrestling match (like me), you’re still able to crawl into the life of a young boy who watches wrestling with his cruel stepfather and hangs onto those wrestlers like they’re his last chance. And then you can hope in something, too. Or even if you’ve never driven to Georgia in despair, you can feel the immense joy that comes with finally seeing the person who cares for you.
All this happens in the midst of reality, in the midst of flesh and blood. Not many (except Darren Aronofsky) think about what wrestlers’ lives are like outside the sweat-salted ring. But Darnielle does, and he even shapes whole albums around thoughts like this. And that, I think, is something needed in this pop world that would rather not spend any time paying attention to anything.
So, enter the world. Here you’ll find a world probably pretty different from your own but also eerily similar. Here you’ll find the stories we live by too, and you’ll wonder which story, ultimately, you want to live into.
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.