Cucch's Book Review: "Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror that Destroyed a Family and Crippled A Sport."
Of all the books on Benoit....this was the first...
Being the first book on a subject does not always coincide with it being the best book on the subject. "Benoit" proves that point nicely. While it is not actively horrible or anything, it is a very, VERY short read. It isn't so much a book as a collection of five essays written by four authors: Steven Johnson (co-author of "The Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams"); Heath McCoy ("Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling"); Greg Oliver (SLAM! Wrestling); and last, but certainly not least, Irv Muschnick.
Each of the essays tackles a different portion of Benoit's life. The first chapter, by Greg Oliver, just gives a loose description of Benoit's remarkable in-ring career. It is nothing mindblowing, nothing that you haven't read on countless websites or other books on Benoit. It is short, to the point, with a minimum of commentary. Oliver also writes the follow up chapter, which isn't necessarily a chapter or essay, but rather a list of the titles and accolades Benoit received throughout his 20 year career. Simple stuff, to be sure, and a relative easy read free of pretension.
Oliver also handles the second full essay, which is a biography of Nancy Toffolini. Again, its pretty bare bones, stating facts once again that most knowledgeable fans already have boned up on. It is fairly straightforward, as it recounts Nancy's time as Kevin Sullivan's valet, her WCW and ECW runs, and her marriage to Benoit. What it does leave out is any sort of detail surrounding her divorce of Sullivan and the start of her relationship with Benoit (offering only the vaguest explanation in almost a throw away paragraph). Don't look for any juicy disclosures here. All these chapters are doing are trying to explain who these people were. Its pure exposition, and there is nothing wrong with that.
The third essay, by Heath McCoy, describes Benoit's time in Stampede wrestling a little more thoroughly than the first chapter. It mentions almost all the stuff we already knew. Benoit idolized Dynamite Kid. He was a fan of Bret Hart. He would do anything to get his foot in the door of the business, and did. This chapter is where we finally start to hit some of the jucier (pun intended) stuff, namely steroids. Everyone brings up Benoit's steroid use here- Bret, Ross, and Bruce Hart in particular. It also brings up, much like in "Ring of Hell", the nickname bestowed upon Benoit and tag team partner Biff Wellington: The Mega Doses, named such because of their prodigious steroid intake. As corroborated in most of the other works on Benoit, he was shooting up pretty much from the time he was a teenager, and it continued, in incredibly high doses, until his demise in 2007.
Along with the steroid issues, the chapter also talks with some former Stampede colleagues of Benoit to try to paint a picture of the man. To a man, they all say he was quiet, polite, and respectful. He never drank much, never did much in the way of narcotics or pain pills, never partook in any of the carnal pleasures offered by ring rats. There is talk of the legendary ribs the Stampede boys inflicted on unsuspecting wrestlers. Benoit would get a chuckle out of these, but for the most part kept his nose to the grindstone.
The chapter, as with chapter 1, describes Benoit's rise to fame in Japan, ECW, WCW, and ultimately WWE. Where the chapter differs, though, is it gives the Hart family reactions to the horrific tragedies of the weekend of June 25, 2007. To a man, they were all shocked, as most of Alberta was. Here was a local boy, a man who had a day in his honor in his native Edmonton in 2004, who by most accounts was just a hard working, blue collar salt of the earth type of guy, and he suddenly just snaps one weekend and wipes out his entire family and his entire legacy in one fell swoop. Well, almost all the Hart brothers were shocked and saddened by the whole sordid affair. Always tactful Bruce Hart derided Benoit as a "Delusional juice freak." Which, in light of everything that has come through the pipeline regarding Benoit's last year or so, may not be too far from the truth.
Steven Johnson blesses the book with its fourth, and by far best, essay. It regards the media frenzy surrounding the Benoit case. The manor in which the media took the case and ran with it simply to garner all important ratings was shameless. (I know, probably hypocritical as someone who follows a business that has long been slave to the almighty Neilsens.) I am not going to delve into this chapter too much, but suffice to say, if you have not read this book, this should be the first chapter you read. It is comprehensive, with graphs and statistics to help bolster the author's point. The worst example of "journalism" in the matter was the slapdash way a woman's hearsay conversation with her deceased husband a few years earlier was corroborated into "Daniel had Fragile-X syndrome." EVERY news outlet ran with that unsubstantiated load of crap and deemed it utterly true. Even WWE was complicit, as Linda McMahon took the allegation and spread it to the media as gospel truth. No one in this matter came out of it with clean hands, and it was just such a sorry spectacle to witness as it was happening in 2007.
Now, regarding the final chapter. I think I have plainly stated in the past that I am not a fan of Irv Muschnick. He has always seemed to me to be a self serving piece of crap who is a attention whore and who's sole purpose is to get his ugly mug on screen. He comes across as smug and a know it all about all aspects of the business. That aside, no one is arguing how knowledgeable he is. His chapter deals with, what else, the staggering number of deaths in wrestling. As much as I despise him, you can not argue his points too much, as he is usually within the ballpark, so to speak, of the truth. Sometimes he twists and distorts it to reach his own conclusion, but I will leave it to you, the discerning wrestling fan, to read what he writes and come to your own conclusion. It is not a bad chapter, but its more or less the same stuff Irv has been writing for years, and he did a better, more thorough job in "Chris and Nancy". (That's right, Irv is a man of such moral conviction that he used the tragedy to produce TWO books on the matter!)
All in all, "Benoit" strikes me as a book that was just rushed through production to get something on the shelves regarding the Benoit tragedy. That is not to say its bad. But it certainly isn't a must read of any sort, except for Steven Johnson's chapter. Otherwise, I would recommend you stay away from this book, and read any of the other three books on the matter.
"Crippled" a sport?ReplyDelete
That's seriously the first place my eyes went when I saw the title.ReplyDelete
I was all like
So how do we pronounce the abbreviated name, Chris?ReplyDelete
Either way, I'd like to talk to you about getting an 80s buddy detective show going.
Cooch. And as far as "Crippled a sport", hey I didn't write the book or title.ReplyDelete
Oh, I didn't mean to imply that "crippled" was your doing.ReplyDelete
But my eyes just immediately went to that word in the title.