Savage 1986 – 2011 by Nathaniel G. Moore — review by Mark McCawley

savageSavage 1986-2011
by Nathaniel G. Moore
Anvil Press
ISBN 978-1-927380-55-0
$20 CAN / $20 US
5.5 x 8 | 280 pp


Despite all the investigation, there is still much unrest in the family. May as well try and enjoy the time we still have on earth. Well, I feel so much sometimes I guess I just get a bit clouded, a bit off-colour. You know that colour? A trout in a blender or that big dumb fat sparrow hopping around on its twig leg that a part of you wants to crush, and it’s plump and juicy, and you want it to dance alive in your semi-closed mouth, then set it free.

Our house (161 Glenvale Boulevard) in north Leaside was built in 1960, and our family of four moved in one crisp weekend in March 1981. During the first week, select relatives visited and photographs were taken of Holly and me discovering the “secret” wood-panel door in the basement beside what would be my eventual bedroom (1985-1994) which led to a small pantry, bunker or bomb shelter under the stairs. The tiny passageway connected to the workshop.

Each and every Sunday we all agreed the roast beef was beautiful; its heart-red and pink cross section caused Dad to make sex noises in between throat clears. “Oh Diane, orgasm,” Dad would groan, rubbing his grey or brown sweater, overacting the pleasure of each sloppy bite with his prop tongue.

The story is disconcerting. It deals with time, madness and perception of what a family is or isn’t. It’s a study of desire, of memory, death and rebirth, set in a world coming apart.

(Prologue – You Know You’re Right: December 2012, p.11-12)

Nathaniel G. Moore’s Savage 1986 – 2011 (Anvil Press, 2013) is an ambitious, complex, suburban post-realist novel disguised as memoir that uses elements of autobiography, diary entries, interviews, interview fragments and confessional to chronicle the middle-class implosion of the novel’s protagonist Nate’s nuclear family — bracketed from when he first saw Randy Savage in person at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens in July 1986, until the wrestler’s sudden death in May 2011 — paralleling Nate’s own search for identity and his eventual mental, emotional, and psychic deterioration.

As noted on the novel’s back cover, Savage blurs lines “between child and adult roles” as Nate seeks out his own identity from that of his emotionally distant, and emotionally absent family giving rise to Nate’s ongoing conflict between the authentic and fictional, the real and the simulated, fantasy and reality, and how Nate attempts to address these myriad conflicts on multiple levels. Nate constantly revisits, remasters, and repackages his memory to determine what is authentic at a given moment of his youth, yet it is his obsession and desire for emotional intimacy which interferes with his sense of reality. Nate’s obsession with Randy “Macho Man” Savage — the professional wrestler who was both celebrated as a megawatt hero and reviled as an incorrigible villain — provides Nate an outlet and hero for the increasing difficulties within his suburban Toronto home. An emotionally distant, disengaged mother. An ineffectual sister. A father whose mental illness and deep dysfunction becoming increasingly apparent along with sporadic violent, alcoholic outbursts. The first of three sections of the book reaches an psycho-sexual denouement when Nate’s best friendship with Andrew, with whom he seeks the emotional intimacy he cannot find at home, turns increasingly homoerotic:

Andrew began to talk about a girl’s tits—a specific pair—from school. He approached me. “Did you see Sandra on the beach?” Andrew ran his hand across my back.

Masturbate. Sometimes Andrew just said the word. I could hear it in my head, invisibly charging through the cabin, implying the activity was forthcoming. The word was so casual, as if it were a band’s name, a flavour of drink or a simplistic ritual or gesture. Andrew was standing now, in his underwear and T-shirt.

“Look at her tits,” Andrew said, cupping my balls, making certain I was on a hot page.

(True Faith: Friday, September 30th, 1988, p.52)

At the core of Moore’s narrative is Nate’s search for his own authentic identity against a background of deteriorating familial relationships into which he increasingly spirals out of control into a vortex of pills, depression, and self-destruction. First, it’s the wrestler, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, which the young Nate obsesses and mythologizes, particularly as his own increasingly absent alcoholic father mars his young life, skewing Nate’s own perception of masculinity, perhaps even permanently.

Then when Nate conjures up psycho-sexual wrestling fantasies to portray his intense feelings of friendship with Andrew, and the subsequent fantasy is neither reciprocated, tolerated or understood; Andrew, too, withdraws from interacting with Nate, leaving him spending more and more time alone couch surfing in his parent’s basement, creating a world of his own design — reediting, remastering, and repackaging VHS tapes full of Macho Man wrestling bouts, road hockey clips, myriad teenage obsessions, including homages to Andrew:
Nathaniel George Moore — Confusion: Thursday, November 26th, 1992, p.133-136 (from ‘Savage 1986-2011’, Anvil Press, Vancouver, BC, 2013)

Paralleling Nate’s deterioration in the second section of Savage, Nate’s father David loses his insurance job and begins working at a funeral home owned by Andrew’s father. Nate and his father argue, feud, and fight in increasing conflict reaching a violent climax after Nate’s Dad bitterly mouthes off about keeping Nate’s Mom, Diane, out of the financial picture should she ever ask for a divorce during a family visit to their Aunt Rebecca’s house (Diane was sick at home):

Just like history does, like a flagpole exploring soil, Dad was deep in the conquering.

“If Diane wants the house, if she tries to take it from me, I’ll tie her up in court for years,” Dad began to say, shifting his weight, half a cracker awkwardly juggling in and out of his jaw.

The vegetables and roast’s steam coaxed things: sleeves, sweater collars, rims of eyewear. We had only been in the house for a short while before things got messy, before I balled up into a myriad of clammy symptoms, hands hurting, dry throat, nauseous stomach, thick salty tears aborting, and the swell of a panicked, bull-like breathing pattern.

“I’m in control; she’s not going to get the house. I’ll keep her tied up in court for years; if she wants to leave me, she’ll get nothing,” Dad concluded, legs crossed like a talk-show guest, and now awkwardly stuffing that final bit of cracker and cheese into his mouth, as if the piece of food was afraid to enter.

I began to tear uncontrollably. A sickness flamed up in my stomach and dried out my heart.

My embarrassing tears pulled me up from the couch and told me to leave the house, to cry in the snow in the afternoon, and so I put on my jacket and boots and went to the car to smoke a cigarette.

I shuffled into the passenger’s seat, smoking sickly, jarred by his callous words. I stared blankly at the scenic house — and smoked and panicked. Things would change, they would surely change, the storyline would swerve and change.

(Ruined in a Day: Sunday, February 6th, 1994, p. 151)

Nate loses it with his Dad:
Nathaniel George Moore — Ruined in a Day: Sunday, February 6th, 1994, p.152-153 (from ‘Savage 1986-2011’, Anvil Press, Vancouver, BC, 2013)

By the end of the second section of Savage, Nate’s fears reach fruition and his parent’s divorce. Nate descends into full blown depression followed by years of couch-surfing, pill-popping, and an eventual drug overdose. It is in Moore’s aptly titled final section of the novel, The Last Savage (1997-2011), that Nate enters a near purgatory-like existence of repeated psychiatric hospitalizations while he comes to terms with his homoerotic relationship with Andrew, his declining mental health, and his issues of abandonment with his family.

Every day congealed. Each morning when I woke from my pharmacy sleep, I awoke with a sliver of hope, as though this could be the day I made sense and everyone would understand what I said at the grocery store or over the phone and that somehow the abstract white noise filling my brain night and day would subside, like a bad techno song played on repeat, the cassette finally giving up, spooling out into a complex warranty suicide.

(Brutal: February 1997 – December 2001, p.189)


Sometimes I would spend weekends in hospital. The pills would be reassigned, the prescription stapled to my sleeve and I’d be sent back through the electronic door into the hollering city. The side effects would always turn me into a mute zombie or twitchy wretch. Once or twice, I woke up with the billowing screen door crashing back and forth, having fallen asleep unaware I’d temporarily expired for the night.

“They make me so nuts,” I’d tell Mom live or over the phone. “I can’t take them anymore, I feel these undulations, a pulsing wave in my arms and legs.”

“Well, why don’t you talk to your doctor about it?”

“He’s an idiot.”

Or to Holly from a payphone, “I hate those doctors…they just hand me prescriptions, expect me to remember every pill I’ve ever taken over the past six years, and to know my every mood for every single fucking minute of my life. Like I’m an expert on me. Fuck them. Darkness is cheaper.

(Brutal: February 1997 – December 2001, p.189)

Unlike the first two sections of Savage, which are powerfully surreal in their use of footnotes, and line drawings and artwork by Andrea Bennett and Vicki Nerino; these devices are abandoned for unknown reasons in the novel’s third and last section.

Using the language, terms, and styles of mass media, Nathaniel G. Moore exposes what occurs when the most ineffable qualities of memory and identity in Savage spin utterly out-of-control; when parental and familial love and attention is replaced by wide screen televisions, camcorders, and VHS tapes. Indeed, with Savage, Moore has created a strange, unconventional new novel of his own design. UG
IMG_0340Nathaniel G. Moore is the author of Let’s Pretend We Never Met (Pedlar, 2007) and four other books including Savage 1986-2011 (Anvil Press, 2013). He currently lives on Protection Island, B.C. with his family. His work has appeared recently in The Berkley Review, The National Post, The Barnstormer and The Georgia Straight. He is a columnist at subTerrain magazine and just completed a book of literary essays, reviews and interviews entitled, Marginalized: My First 5,478 days in Canadian Publishing as well as a book of short fiction called Jettison.

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