The View From Down Here – Book Review ‘Hitman’ by Bret Hart

Fourth one. I’m on a bit of a roll. And this one is the one I was most looking forward to, but the 500+ page length meant I had to make sure I had a clear time to sit down and take it all I.

So now I’ve finished ‘Hitman’ by Bret Hart (2007).

2 and a half days. That was all it took. I could not put the damn thing down. The first three quarters was absolutely riveting stuff, well written, once more in that conversational tone wrestling books seem to favour. Tightly edited as well, and well constructed. It is as good as any of the other sporting autobiographies I have read, not just a book for the “yee-haw” wrasslin’ fan.

So much information here, and Bret really does not spare anything or anyone. And, first and foremost, his family does not come out well. It’s clear he loves father but there is still a lot of resentment there in the words. Stu just does not seem like a nice guy. And Bruce is a real jerk (which confirms Dynamite’s appraisal of him) and yet the family still bends over backwards for him. In the end, really, Owen is the only sibling that comes out all right all the time. And it is his late mother only to whom the book is dedicated.

The Dynamite Kid comes out okay at times, but a real arsehole at others (like slicing open Davey Boy Smith). Generally, though, he’s not portrayed too badly on the whole until the end, and his book being the reason Bret stopped communicating with him. Jim Neidhart comes across as bit of a buffoon whose demons dominated a lot of his life, but it is clear Bret has affection for him. Same with Davey Boy, though maybe not to the same degree. But with both, certainly more love than for the sisters they married. His real family contained the men he wrestled, not those who shared his parents.

Other wrestlers are also targets. Like the Ultimate Warrior – he does not appear good, not good at all. One of the very worst. Flair, from the word go, comes across as something far less than even Shawn Michaels. Curt Hennig and Randy Savage, though, are portrayed as generally good guys. Hulk comes across okay, especially in the start. Surprisingly. And even in the whole post-WrestleMania 9 thing he does not come across as the truly awful guy I had been led to believe he was. Roddy Piper, Steve Austin and Undertaker come out of this really well.

Oh, and I’d be remiss not to share this quote: “[Hogan had] a manservant named Brutus Beefacke who carried his bags.” That made me laugh, don’t know why.

Then there’s Shawn Michaels – that’s an interesting one. There are times when Hart looks at him with almost affection, and others when he thinks less than nothing of him, his attitude and behaviour, WrestleMania XI being the sort of turning point. And then WrestleMania XII and Shawn enters full-on arsehole territory. But then there are the frequent subtle asides that Vince was engineering Shawn. (“Looking back now, I can see that this wasn’t Shawn’s fault any more than it was mine. Vince was the one who planted and cultivated the seeds of that doubt.”) Although he does sort of accuse Shawn of hastening the end of Davey Boy Smith.

Which brings us to Vince McMahon. Vince comes out good at times, a true arsehole at others. It seems that Vince really did want to take over the world through wrestling, but more importantly, wanted to be the king of that world, and bugger anyone else. I mean, even in the early years, the WWF appears to be nothing more than a business. I’m not saying that’s wrong – it’s just different. But Vince comes across as a true heartless businessman. He didn’t want to conquer Ted Turner – he wanted to be Ted Turner.

I think Bret really blames Vince Russo for a lot of things as well.

But this book is not just a who’s who of wrestling. His impressions of the world as he encounters it are fascinating. For example, this description of Manila – “Back at the hotel I looked out the window and saw rising up from this cesspool an inordinately large number of Catholic church spires that, despite the grime that was everywhere, were immaculately kept.” And some of his insights were also intriguing. An example is the reasoning he put forth as to the way the Inoki/Ali debacle played out.

And his tales of being on the road, especially in the early days, are mind-blowing. I mean where else would this quote ever appear: “I guess in any other circumstance a bongo-playing midget singing “do wah diddy diddy” would be considered unusual; to me this was normal.”

But the most brutal honesty comes when talking about his own life, his sexual dalliances especially. He does come across as quite the jerk – getting married even though he knows he’s going to cheat on Julie? Justifying extramarital sex as the least of all the evils he could be doing? Julie does not come out brilliantly with her constant threats, which might explain the book’s acknowledgement to her. But, also, maybe she had just cause. No matter how well he believed he covered his indiscretions, I reckon she probably knew. She does, however, become redeemed after his stroke and her care for him.

One thing in particular struck me: He thinks his WrestleMania XI match against Backlund is his worst PPV match? Wow that’s harsh – I mean, I watched his entire WCW run.

Then we get to the end. The last quarter of the book, from WrestleMania 13 onwards, is uncomfortable. The feeling of paranoia is all over those last 120 or so pages. And then when the screwjob happens and Owen dies, depression takes over. Although, having said that, the way he detailed the screwjob was quite good. I understand why the mood becomes what it does, but that does not lessen the impact. To me, it does bring everything down after the brilliant opening 400 pages. Look, I know he was screwed in a pseudo sport where he could well have been the last of the true old-school wrestlers. But what could have been a brilliant complete work to my mind was brought down by this tone. And then the deaths and the family tearing itself apart compounded it all.

And the Afterward is just a jolt.

I’m wondering if a revised edition with a new, 2010 chapter, will be released. Watching the Hart And Soul anthology DVD set, it seems that maybe some of these issues have been dealt with. But I doubt it is complete. So while not as vindictive as Pure Dynamite, it is still a hard read in places. And yet it really opened my eyes.

As a writer Hart comes across as more than competent, with an easy going style that is all too easy to get into. Sometimes the narrative passages jump in their subject a little jarringly and sometimes anecdotes do not follow real well. But it is a good book for all that, keeping its subject interesting for a huge number of words.

And I hope he has moved on and that his recovery is ever onwards and upwards. It feels like he deserves it.

The old adage about wrestling books being like colouring in books for adults just does not hold water. Sure, they’re no Shakespeare – hell, they’re no Stephen King – but 4 books and not a bad one yet. And so yet again, for the 4th time – thoroughly recommended.

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