This one must have been a hard sell, a debut novel about a disabled teenager with a sexual abusive father written by a man best known for being thrown twenty feet from the top of a steel cage and knocking a tooth out through his nose. But a troublesome job for the marketing department is nothing but a joy for the reader as Tietam Brown. Is. Fantastic.
Those familiar with Foley will know that prior to this novel he had already completed two autobiographies, Have a nice Day: A tale of blood and sweat socks and Foley is Good: and the real world is faker than wrestling. No stranger then to the graft of writing, but his novel is a much different entity from his non-fiction books. His writing style which, in his autobiographies is incredibly loose, jumping from story to story, occasionally switching from past to present tense, is here replaced by a much more solid style that rivals the output of many established authors.
The book centres around Andy, a young boy who, his whole life, has been shunted from one foster family to another with each pairing ending in tragedy. Here we find him, reunited with his biological father the eponymous Tietam Brown.
Tietam as a character is an interesting one, a hard drinking body builder, obsessed with telling his son every gory detail of his, incredibly prolific, sex life. He is at once a totally abhorrent and oddly loveable man, and as you go through the novel you find yourself continually switching from hatred and pity towards him. One scene finds Tietam turning up drunk in Andy’s room in the middle of the night and giving the boy a photograph of his dead mother. Contrast this with an unforgettable exchange in which Andy, asking his father for advice about girls, is told “Whenever possible, get them to lick your ass. That way you’ve always got something over them”
These contradictions not only create realistic and flawed characters but also showcase Foley’s talent as a writer not afraid to take risks. Indeed there is not a single character in this novel is the kind of two dimensional creation you might expect from a first time writer, especially one from a non-writing background.
Foley’s style is simply wonderful, he perfectly captures that feeling of early teenage passion. And just as he is able to make these lusty moments of youth feel sweet and true, he is also able to write the dark abusive past of Andy in a way that is genuinely horrific, to the point that I found myself needing to take the occasional break from the novel just to get away. The end result is a mix that groups together the explicit sexuality of John Irving with the genuine youthfulness of John Green.
There are occasional slip ups, dialogue is occasionally clunky, one or two lines coming off a little too soap opera but these are few and far between. Over all, Foley does a fantastic job and makes great use of his knowledge base, some wrestling turns up at the end but in a way that doesn’t seem crow barred in like you might expect.
Tietam Brown is a brilliant piece of work, a book that I devoured over the space of three days, genuinely struggling to put it down. Leave your preconceptions at the door. This isn’t a wrestler playing writer. Mick Foley is a bona fide author, albeit one who knows how to sell a chair shot.