The Squared Circle
Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling
David Shoemaker, AKA "The Masked Man"
Synopsis: A look at wrestling history through the contributions of wrestlers who have passed away.
All the subjects I've dedicated chapters to in this book are dead. And if few of them died directly in the line of duty, it's hard not to draw a straight line between the fantasy lives they led and the hard reality of their endings. It's more than a little uplifting, though, that the rash of deaths that first spurred me to chronicle them has petered out. The new generation of wrestlers largely grew up watching their heroes die and larned the appropriate lessons, and WWE, the last standing major promotion - be it out of compassion or marketing, it really doesn't matter - in making sure its employees don't wreck their lives. Now it's said that you're more likely to find a superstar playing video games in his hotel room after a match than partying in the hotel bar. But even if the epidemic of dead wrestlers has ended, wrestlers has ended, wrestlers will never stop dying so long as wrestling exists. They're human, after all.
Wrestlers dying young is certainly not new territory for books about the business; authors including Irv Muchnick and Scott Keith have discussed this sensitive topic at length, while Dave Meltzer has dedicated two "Tributes" books to the very subject.
But never before has a book attempted to explain wrestling's history through the litany of fallen performers. It's an interesting take, and Shoemaker (known for his columns on Grantland and Deadspin) has done an outstanding job of weaving (as the book title suggests) life, death and professional wrestling together so masterfully.
Each chapter is dedicated to a wrestler, be it a well-known subject such as Andre The Giant or Owen Hart or lesser-known names like S.D. Jones or Brian "Crush" Adams. Instead of a biography about the wrestler of a synopsis of how they died, Shoemaker explains how their contributions to the world of wrestling at large.
In what has to be a surprise even to the book's author, an "Interlude" chapter is dedicated to The Ultimate Warrior, who passed away maybe three or four weeks after I began reading The Squared Circle. Not sure why Warrior was chosen instead of, say Hulk Hogan, as a bridge between The WrestleMania Era and The Modern Era... but it sure seems timely looking back on the unexpected events following WrestleMania this year.
The Squared Circle is a generous and well-written look at the history of the business through the work of everyone from Gorgeous George to Chris Benoit and Bruiser Brody to Brian Pillman. Special sections are thrown in to provide further color on weddings, racism and unions as they pertain to wrestling.
If I had one criticism of the book, it's that there doesn't seem to be a real direction at times. Sure, Shoemaker attempts to tie everything together by the epilogue and it can be argued that a bigger picture isn't necessarily needed here. But it would have been nice for this book to be the type of thing one can't put down. Instead, it's more reference than narrative.
Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! If you're looking for another book that blames Vince McMahon for every dead wrestler in the last 30 years, keep looking. This is a great balance of storytelling and wrestling history that is definitely worth a read.