“Americanism is an amorphous idea. The concept varies person to person and has no doubt changed over time. Yet there is still something immovable and essential about it, so much so that it continues to exist at the center point of culture and politics despite meaning completely different things to different people. The definitive American virtues, however, in all their manifestations, boil down to similar ideas: stubborn individualism, rugged adventurism and hope to make a new, better life for oneself.
These ideas find a unique home in “Champion of the World,” the debut novel from Bleacher Report lead MMA writer Chad Dundas. Through the lives of down-and-out former wrestling champion Pepper Van Dean — back when professional wrestling was still legitimate competition — and his wife Moira, Dundas unravels the layers of the American spirit in a vivid pre-Depression setting.
We meet the Van Dean’s as part of a backwoods traveling circus, where Pepper performs dangerous stunts and wrestles audience members for spare change while Moira cheats drunken yokels on the poker table. After a particularly confrontational night, they find themselves on their own in the middle of the Oregon woods. Having no real alternatives, they accept a dubious offer to train Garfield Taft, a talented African-American wrestler fresh off a publicized bid in prison. Taft’s goal: to become the undisputed heavyweight wrestling champion.
From there, the story unfolds in a series of twists that breathe air into a panoply of well-defined characters and provides legitimate historical context, not only to the sport of wrestling itself but to the temperament of the country that saw it become a form of business entertainment. It’s a gripping narrative that never lets go once it gets its hooks in…”
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