Wrestling God
Art Crummer
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Buy *Wrestling God* by Art Crummeronline

Wrestling God
Art Crummer
298 pages
November 2013
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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“You learn a lot as a kid. You get used to losing things. Your rabbit or chicken dies or somebody smashes your hard work. And you’re glad when anything turns out OK.”
The author of Wrestling God, Art Crummer, grew up in Elkin, North Carolina, in the 1950s. It was small-town life, relatively free of crime, humming along way outside the big headlines. But it had its rough spots, as Paul Bradley, the youthful narrator of this Southern-flavored novel, recounts, in a voice that gradually grows deeper with age. The book is punctuated with letters from the older, wiser Paul, trying to impart the essence of his boyhood to his own children.

With a smart mother and a father who was a “called” to be a preacher, Paul knows he is expected to be “a good example thereunto the others.” But he is lured by worldly delights, such as mystery comic books, and away from the childish pleasures of Tinker Toys. He graduates to a spell of shoplifting from the hardware store, allowing him to fashion intricate fishing gear. The descriptions of making sinkers and doughballs add an authentic touch, something lots of folks in the rural South even now can relate to.

Throughout Wrestling God, Paul tries to be good, tamps down his lower desires (“I’m bad to lie”), and grapples with religion in his boyish way: “You’re just a kid. And everybody believes this stuff but you. You got to go along with it.” One question that runs through the story is, as Paul so eloquently puts it, “How could anyone want to kill their own self?” A child observing death—of relatives, animals, and villains in the comics—can easily understand that it’s not a good thing. But what if someone is very sick, worn down by pain? This thorny moral dilemma looms large towards the end of the book, forming a disturbing nexus of unanswered questions—questions about the salaciously clad “woman at the mailbox” who seems determined to entice Paul’s father, the mysterious death of one of his father’s flock, and the disappearance of Paul’s sister that no one seems willing to discuss. Combined with the family’s sudden move to Florida, away from the forests, fields and friends that young Paul has come to rely on, these enigmas make his life a lot murkier than it should have to be.

Liberally salted with snatches of traditional song (the book is dedicated to the spirit of the great Appalachian singer, Hazel Dickens) and peppered with local phraseology that will be readily recognizable to anyone with an “Elkin accent” (as I have heard it described), Wrestling God is about a boy growing up, told by someone who has the magic to make the memories come alive.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2016

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