As a society at the beck and call of mass culture, we're well into the second coming of reality television, (a medium that came into global power some 15 years ago) where plumbers, school teachers, fitness instructors, homemakers and janitors have the chance to become household names overnight. We continue to waltz knee-deep in the ever-boring business of the tell-all celebrity memoir that some people call "books." Contemporary fiction has joined the slow drip of this particular genre grab, taking on a life of its own in a confluence of expression and anonymity with fictional versions of lives we would otherwise never hear about. Sheila Heti and Tao Lin are fostering the people with urban fiction's take on the barrage of self-stuffing.
Described by Taddle Creek magazine as "a book whose tumultuous creation is a tale on-par with any W.W.E. storyline" Nathaniel G. Moore's Savage 1986–2011 (Anvil Press) takes the confessional love letter, puts a mixed tape in the envelope for good measure and throws it on your front porch, waiting obsessively for you to hear the truth. The truth is of course, according to Nate, the novel's voice and for all intents and purposes, narrative linchpin. According to Moore, the book had to have a major shift in treatment towards the end of its construction before he would show it to any publisher. "It lacked rhythm, it needed to be pushed closer to home, get a bit uglier and at the same time, more beautiful," Moore explains. "I rewrote it in first person, removing the original third person elements, changed the names around to those of my actual family, save for Holly who is the sister I never had, and based it entirely on what I remembered to be my legendary life with my family."
Nathaniel G. Moore's Savage 1986–2011 takes the confessional love letter, puts a mixed tape in the envelope for good measure and throws it on your front porch, waiting obsessively for you to hear the truth.
Since it's publication in late 2013, Savage 1986–2011 has included the release (online) of a short film and sporadic text and video features on the places and people that inspired and assisted with the novel's completion. Most of this has transpired through a Tumblr page (savageanovel.tumblr.com) but other bits Moore has released on Vimeo, and Savage Shorts on Youtube and on internet message boards.
"The use of black and white drawings by Vicki Nerino and Andrea Bennett added to the private feel the book gives off," says Moore. "The short film was necessary and came about for two reasons: because of the culture clutter that runs rampant in the opening chapters, and because I wanted to bridge the past with the present using old footage," Moore says, suggesting the tapestry of colors and products, music and personal visuals could be played out in the film in a way that was different than the book itself.
A perennial mouthpiece in the young Toronto publishing community, Moore is a both a long-time supporter of publishing and also one of its biggest antagonists. In a recent interview, Moore likened the business side of books to that of pro wrestling's prearranged outcomes.
The wrestling industry is "able to do the exact same thing over and over again and still make millions of dollars," Moore told Taddle Creek editor Conan Tobias. "The book industry is the same way. Although the money is completely skewed, it is, to a degree with grants and poetry contests, it is fake, it is prearranged. There are those situations where people say, 'No, I don't want to have that person win,' and no one can tell me that hasn't happened in Canadian publishing."
The wrestling industry is "…able to do the exact same thing over and over again and still make millions of dollars. The book industry is the same way. Although the money is completely skewed, it is, to a degree with grants and poetry contests, it is fake, it is prearranged."
While Moore admits many of his contemporaries believed the book to be entirely devoted to someone's obsession with wrestling and Randy Savage, he's been delighted with the end results of the product and general buzz the book has garnered. "People have walked away with different things, appreciated separate elements of Savage, and that's something I'm tremendously proud of, I almost got the sense that some people didn't expect to read a book so straight-forward from me, which, based on my past books I can't entirely blame them for."
And while popular culture does from time to time shout from the pages (Playboy, Terminator 2, Star Wars, George Michael, New Order, Wrestlemania, Cape Fear), the story arc is a unique look at one family member's recollection of his rise and fall and of a messy nuclear family meltdown with bouts of hope, lust, power, love and corruption all fountaining out in loud Technicolor.
Using the exploitive world of pro wrestling as a tiny thread in the storyline, Savage 1986–2011 is framed between the twenty-five years the narrator (named Nate) first sees Randy "Macho Man" Savage in the summer of 1986 until the passing of the wrestler in May 2011. The book revisits Toronto's 1980s and 1990s, bad parenting, explicit teen mischief, lazy pizza afternoons, personal fantasy and suburban dread. With George Michael or New Order playing on a constant loop in the background and armed with his trusty VHS video camera, Nate sets off to document the final years of a family caught in its growing web of dysfunction.
With George Michael or New Order playing on a constant loop in the background and armed with his trusty VHS video camera, Nate sets off to document the final years of a family caught in its growing web of dysfunction.
The book serves as both a time capsule and examination of the apparatus of the real and that which is perceived to be false or untrue. Each character believes in his or her own realities and the depths of their subjectivity, however erratic these emotional aggressions may appear to the reader.
"You have all those fundamental coming of age elements but also the break down and slow death of a family from the grandparents to the parents to the children," Moore explains, suggesting even the cat dies at some point. "We all live in the emotional garrisons we create for one another," the author points out.
Moore's two previous novels and two poetry collections vary in length and style and are hard to summarize but I'll try here (Bowlbrawl: full contact bowling league; Let's Pretend We Never Met: a poetic look at the author and the Latin poet Catullus somehow interacting in the present day; Pastels Are Pretty Much the Polar Opposite of Chalk: surreal pop poetry; and Wrong Bar: a group of teens plot a dance party and someone dies).
Moore says Savage 1986–2011 took more than ten years to complete and was both difficult and exciting to work on, but most of all emotionally draining, sometimes requiring large chunks of time in between edits and revisions. "Beyond all that sulking teen anxiety stuff, which is part of the structure or whatever creative writing class slang you wanna to use, I think Savage is a very funny book, but then again, I live an alternative lifestyle."
by Nathaniel G. Moore
Anvil Press, 2013
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Richard McClaughlin is a poet and writer from Etobicoke.