In this remarkable full-length collection of stories, The Long Way Home, Michael Chin gives us an almost phone-gallery-like glimpse into the world of professional wrestling. These stories describe violence and love in the same breath, debunking the myths of masculinity around these spaces, and unveil a whole world of possibilities (or not) for the reader. There is a humanization, almost, of the world that seems to deny it to its occupants.
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently serves as Assistant Professor in Residence for the Honors College of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where he teaches courses in creative writing, rhetoric and composition, fragmented narratives and popular culture. He has been writing about the wrestling space over the last decade or so, both as a weekly pro wrestling columnist for 411mania.com and as a regular contributor of lists and opinion pieces to TheSportster and Sportskeeda. He is also the author of two wrestling-centric hybrid chapbooks, Autopsy and Everything After and The Leo Burke Finish and two full-length books, Circus Folk and You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue. His debut novel My Grandfather’s an Immigrant and So Is Yours is forthcoming in 2021 from Cowboy Jamboree Press. His writing has been published and is forthcoming in around 200 publications including The Normal School, Passages North, Barrelhouse, Hobart, Hot Metal Bridge, Iron Horse Literary Review, Front Porch Journal, Bellevue Literary Review, Prairie Schooner online, Waccamaw, and Word Riot.
This book is a peek into the elements that chart and construct the space of a professional wrestler, diving deep, even with its short pieces, into understanding and uncovering the emotional and often hidden/unseen aspects of professional wrestling. Its three parts combine fact and fiction to carefully explore a human and sensitive reading of the violence and the awe that the image of wrestling is often assigned. The intricate details force the reader head-on into the universe and witness their lives, almost like a behind-the-scenes telling. Through its masterful articulation, it brings the reader very close to the characters in the book, especially with the usage of the I in the first and the third part, and the theme of competing against one’s own parent in the space of your work in the second. The stories themselves are not more than two to three pages, and yet they both set up the excitement of what’s coming next and give off the aroma of a larger narrative that binds these stories together.
In this light, it is also interesting to note that Chin chooses not to explore the art of wrestling, but the artists—the wrestlers—themselves. The stories focus very closely on character building, and that is also indeed what takes the story forward, in all three sections of the book, staying true to the genre of literary fiction. It juxtaposes multiple spaces together to construct a single story: home, love, sex, art and the politics of identity as one navigates these complexities, something most narratives of professional wrestling miss out on. The close exploration also prompts one to move beyond the toxic gender attributes assigned to wrestlers, and allows for the space to examine (and perhaps debunk) these traits in the characters. It complicates, in a new and good way, the identity of a professional wrestler.
The usage of the personal in the stories, both through the “I” and the story of Emma who is up against her legendary mother in the second part, is also what politicizes the theme of violence in this book. The book urges us to look closer at the violence and discover the vast sea of other factors that underlie the construction of these spaces. What it does here is two-fold: one, it makes accessible a space that is not talked about in the rawness that Chin does, and two, offers a lesson that perhaps, one should always take a step back and carefully assess something before painting a picture of it. In a world of social media where one can get easily swayed, and in a world where politicians use pathos to draw in millions of people to their fascist policies, Chin encourages the reader with his own prose to unlearn and look deeply into themselves beyond their privilege. His text, therefore, is representative not just of professional wrestling, but of ways to understand the world.
The Long Way Home is therefore a must read, especially those who are looking for something new and inspiring.
Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.