Book Review: Foxcatcher

I read this memoir as an audiobook (which I don’t normally do, but it was the only version the library had), and I am not sure if that was what made it so difficult to get through or if the overall storyline was flawed. Foxcatcher has some issues in terms of writing style, flow, and too many details about Mark Schultz’s wrestling career, but the themes of brotherly love, athleticism, personal struggle, and pressure to win resonate throughout the book.

Title: Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John Du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold

Author: Mark Schultz (with David Thomas)

Genre: Memoir

Format: Audiobook

Publisher: Penguin Group

Publishing Year: 2014

2015 Reading Challenge: A memoir

The memoir opens with Mark Schultz’s brother, Dave, murdered on January 26, 1996 by John Du Pont at the Foxcatcher Farms in Pennsylvania. Then Schultz goes into the story of his childhood with his brother Dave, and how he and Dave became wrestlers. Then their university/collegiate years, the 1984 Olympics and finally Dave’s death. I would have liked a bit more about Dave. I understand that this is Mark Schultz’s memoir, but if you are talking about your brother’s murder as a key theme in the book, there should be a lot about him. By the end of the book, I still felt like Dave was a mystery.

I don’t normally give such a low rating for a book, but this one deserves only a 2 out of 5. The book seemed to be more focused on Mark’s wrestling career and less on his brother’s murder, John DuPont and Olympic Gold, which were indicated in the title. I understand that this is Mark’s memoir, however I felt like there was an opportunity to make this a great story, and instead it felt like I was reading a Google page of all Mark Schultz’s bouts and titles. I still haven’t decided whether I like Mark or find him a bit egotistical, which may have contributed towards my distaste for the book.

I would say more than half of the book is focused on Mark’s wrestling career. It seemed like every single wrestling match was relived, when it didn’t have to be. It could be 20 minutes of just listening about various matches that Mark played in, and by the end I was thinking, what was the point of all this? Why did I need to hear details about every single match? They didn’t contribute anything to the overall storyline. Maybe to boost his ego? I’m not sure. If you were a wrestling aficionado it may be interesting to hear all those details, but they truly served no purpose to the overall storyline. I know that this is a memoir, but it also needs to have a flow. A few matches can be discussed, of course, but does every single match since he was in high school need to be fleshed out? Probably not. Plus I became extremely confused and lost when Schultz would discuss different opponents and wrestling moves. He would often times mention an opponent more than once, because you may meet multiple times in your career. But then I just became confused by which ones he had met already and which ones he had not. And maybe because I was listening to it as an audiobook, the names of the different wrestlers became confusing.

It wasn’t until more than halfway through the book that John DuPont, the multi-millionaire who helped fund Mark and David’s wrestling careers, was introduced to the main character. A little too long in my opinion. Too much time was spent on Mark’s childhood and collegiate years and by that point most people would have probably stopped listening to the audiobook. I needed to do this review so I kept listening. It didn’t get much better. The pacing and writing style sealed the deal. This memoir is not a winner.

Even though Foxcatcher has its problems, one positive that came out of it, is that it made me think about sport and funding for athletes in general. After hearing this story, I couldn’t stop thinking of athletes and the dismal funding that they receive from government/organizations. Mark Schultz repeatedly makes note of the lack of support shown by USA Wrestling, which led him to resort to the money and resources that John DuPont was able to provide. Recently the 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games were held in Toronto. I attended a few events, and realized how difficult it is to be an athlete, even today. Most have a secondary job on top of being an athlete to support themselves.

Mark Schultz made it seem as though wrestlers are the only athletes that struggle with funding, but I think all athletes struggle. Some more popular sports may be lucky enough to receive slightly more funding. And some athletes may be able to snag a few media sponsorships. But I feel like most athletes struggle just to be noticed.

I was reading about roller figure/speed skating at the Pan Am Games. And you may be thinking to yourself, what is roller figure/speed skating? Well it is basically figure and speed skating on ice, which you often see at the Winter Olympics, but its done on the road or wooden floor. And roller skates are used instead of ice skates.

I was fascinated by this, because I thought to myself how have I never heard of these sports before? We hear all the time about figure skaters and speed skaters. Why is it that they do all the same flips, tricks, twirls, and moves as their ice counterparts with little recognition? There is no roller figure skating or roller speed skating in the Summer Olympics, but why are their “ice siblings” in the Winter Olympics. It still makes no sense to me. And I know that part of it has to do with ratings and what viewers/public want to see. But these athletes probably work just as hard as the ice skaters but with significantly less funding and international recognition. Its a shame really.

Now with a Olympic bid being considered for Toronto, it all comes down to cost. And supporting athletes and building venues is expensive. I can see the economic and infrastructure burdens that could be placed on the City if it takes on an Olympics, however the tourism and athletic benefits could be great.

Just for context, I don’t play sports. I used to in my younger years, but was never really good at one sport in particular. However I am still always amazed by the feats that these athletes can perform. Plus my competitive nature seems to come out when I watch sport.

But I feel for these athletes after they compete. They win a medal, get their fifteen minutes of fame, and then when the event is over, they move back into the shadows until they win another medal. The public likes winners and I feel like these athletes have so much pressure placed on them to perform, to produce medals and get that recognition. But it can be so hard to stay at the top and continue to win. Mark Schultz noted this same pressure in Foxcatcher. The pressure to repeat Olympic Gold and to finish his athletic career on a high note resulted in his on and off depression throughout his life.

Even though I had some issues with the book, I am still interested in seeing the movie version with Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell. I have heard that the movie is much better than the book surprisingly. Although Mark Schultz claims that there are a lot of inaccuracies in the movie. I’m planning to post another review by Saturday, the latest. So please check back soon! Thanks!

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