REVIEW: Luchador by Erin Finnegan

REVIEW: Luchador by Erin Finnegan (November 3, 2016); 244 pages. Available from Interlude press here: https://store.interludepress.com/collections/printed-books/products/luchador-print-edition

When I was a kid, my dad spent much of the weekend parked in front of his TV, watching WWF pro wrestling. To this day, the sound of screaming men gives me hives. But the stories the men acted out were compelling, despite the too-long sweaty hair and weird unitards and hoarse shouting. Even I, as a kid, knew it was all show, but there was something that grabbed both me and my dad (and lots of other Americans, too).

Luchador dips into the world of showy wrestling and heightened storytelling, but it’s luchadores in Mexico, not the bastardization that is American pro wrestling. While the novel itself maintains a calm dignity in its storytelling, the stage on which the characters live their lives is bananas. Gabriel, orphaned and raised by his aunt and uncle (I can’t help thinking about Superman here) wanders into the world of professional luchadores and, with the mentorship of a handful of seasoned wrestlers, becomes one himself. The novel follows his rise to stardom as El Angel, a much-admired masked wrestler who plays a be-winged, glittery angel who’s still really tough (kind of like the Biblical archangels, who were depicted as scary-tough-dangerous). The story also traces his search for an apt love—like most of us, he has to comb through some mistakes (too immature, deeply closeted) before he finds the right fit.

The story is, on many levels, about finding this right fit, not only in terms of his suitors, but in terms of his career and his place in the world (a narrative, not uncommon for an orphan in fiction, with a great literary tradition).

Along the way, El Angel must wrestle with how he’s portrayed by the industry, since wrestlers marked as “gay” (which he is) are usually marketed as “Exóticos”, the flamboyant, referee-kissing, feather-boa-wearing stereotypes we gay folk have dealt with for a long time (sexually predatory on innocent str8 folks, showy, too femme or too butch, etc.). As with many gay folk confronted with a culture/industry’s attempts to write the terms of how we’re portrayed and understood, Gabriel/El Angel must determine how he sees himself, and how he will be understood by others.

(I want to be clear that it’s the forcing of a persona upon someone that’s the problem, not the flamboyancy of the persona. It’s just as bad when someone who wants to be feminine is discounted and not taken seriously as it is when someone who doesn’t want to be feminine is forced into it. It’s about self-determination, and all too often that’s a simple right that’s denied those of us who are gay. This novel recognizes that, and focuses on Gabriel’s desire to define himself, rather than on his desire to be defined as macho instead of fey.)

There’s plenty of wrestling action for fans (well-described, with a touch of insider-realism) and plenty of plot action outside the ring to keep anyone not-fan hooked. Luchador is a fast-paced novel that’s interested in both a good plot and well-developed, complex characters.

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