Book Review: More Like Wrestling: A Novel
by Danyel Smith
Publication Date: Jan 14, 2003
List Price: $23.95
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann and Pearson PLC
Borrow from Library
Book Reviewed by Thumper
More Like Wrestling, the debut novel by Danyel Smith, is centered on the close
relationship between two sisters. This was a vexing book…emotionally empty
yet captivating, excessively wordy and still brilliant. No, I am not
schizophrenic. More Like Wrestling is all these things, and there lays my
Sisters Paige (age 14) and Pinch (age 12) are moved into their own apartment in Oakland by their mother after experiencing a painful, abusive and humiliating episode with her boyfriend. Their Oakland apartment, nicknamed The Psuedo, is where Paige and Pinch went to school, formed lifelong friendships and matured. The book is not just about the sisters’ relationship, but the social environment in which they grew up.
It took me a week and a half to read More Like Wrestling. My slow was due to the fact that I would go from loving the book, to hating it, to finding it watching grass grow boring. I started getting motion sickness going through this cycle again and again. After a week of suffering through the ups and downs of Paige and Pinch, I hurried up and finished it just so I could get my surroundings to finally stand still.
The characters were adequate and forgettable. I had concerns with the depictions of the sisters. Pinch was portrayed as being quiet and observant. I assumed, that since Pinch was attributed with these characteristics, she would provide any insight into a situation or any of the other characters. This was not the case. Smith lamely relied on ’telling’ me that Pinch was observant without any supporting evidence.
Paige was the most interesting character in the book, but Smith did not communicate her uniqueness. I wanted to drop into Paige’s head to find out how she ticked. An unflinching, true exploration of Paige would have made the character sing. When I saw that an extensive examination of Paige was not forthcoming, I became bored with More Like Wrestling.
Paige and Pinch narrated alternating chapters. Not a good move because their voices weren’t distinct enough to successfully pull it off. Often had to wait for Paige/Pinch to mention her sister’s name in order to determine who was handling the narrator’s duties. When this technique didn’t work, I would just assign the narrator’s voice to Pinch, since the quiet, observant sister would probably know what is happening, being said, etc. Needless to say, a Pick-and-Choose guessing game is not the best way to read a book.
Every so often, between chapters, a page from a journal would appear. I’m sure it would have added some flavor to the story, if only I knew who wrote it. I didn’t know the journal’s author until the end of the book. By then, I was more irritated by the journal’s interrupting the flow of the story and didn’t care about the journal or its author.
As the story progressed, Smith would go off onto tangents—by going into the details of a character’s background that held little significance to the story, or by providing histories of Oakland or by offering descriptions of furniture. For example, the sisters became good friends with Jessica. Thanks to Smith, I not only got to know Jessica in depth, but her parents as well, and even how the parents met. I was also subjected to full-blown descriptions of the sisters’ bedrooms, and the contents of their closets. Now that’s more information than I need to know. As I read these unnecessary passages I would say, "Come on Smith, I got a life to live. I ain’t got time for this!"
There were subjects that would have enhanced my understanding of the story (versus exploring bedroom d’cor), like the identity of Paige and Pinch’s father. What really ticked me off was Gigi’s, (the girls’ mother) stubborn refusal to reveal his identity. What a stupid move. One, I find it backward when a book keeps secrets from itself. Two, if Smith could elaborate on how Jessica’s parents met, or the home life of one of Paige’s ex-boyfriends, then why can’t I—a reader who is investing my time and interest—learn about Paige and Pinch’s father? If Smith wasn’t going to give me the information, why bring up the girls’ father in the first place? *eyebrow raised*
When I had grown comfortable in my indifference, Smith would write a passage that was startling and remarkable in its eloquence. One such instance was when Paige stated that the only constant in life is tragedy and then went into a soliloquy on the elements of life. I was impressed, not only by the wisdom and insight communicated in this passage, but by the beautiful way Smith relayed it.
Smith’s effort to make More Like Wrestling multidimensional by injecting The social commentary of folks who live on the fringes of the drug life, (people who just sit by and watch it happen), was good. Smith did a wonderful job incorporating this perspective into the story, but I would have liked to have seen more of the drug life. If Smith brought more of the gritty harshness of drug life to the story, it would have instilled greater depth and a stronger point of view, instead of only hinting at them. While killing and death existed, the darkness that should have shadowed the story simply was not present. I was always aware that Pinch, Paige and I were emotionally, a step or two removed from all that.
I can’t say that the writing in More Like Wrestling wasn’t good, because it was. Nor, can I say that I didn’t see the story unfold in my mind like a movie, because I did. Many of the situations the sisters found them in were painfully real. But the story neither pulled my heartstrings nor compelled me to look more closely at the story. I cannot put my finger on where the story went wrong. I simply was not as emotionally invested in the book, as I should have been.
I came away from More More Like Wrestling feeling a little melancholy. If Smith had stayed true to the story and focused exclusively on Paige and Pinch, the book could have been incredible. The structure of the novel left a lot to be desired and did not always fit the story. Smith’s writing style is wonderful. Despite this strength, and even ignoring the bad spots, ultimately, the story didn’t feel real to me. Although, I can’t fully endorse More Like Wrestling, I look forward to Danyel Smith’s progress as a writer and to her next novel.