The Church of Wrestling
by Emily Thomas Mani
publication date: June 15, 2021
Eleven-year-old Jenny Arsenault is an undefeated wrestler, thanks in large part to the guiding principle her father has taught her—Strike First. But she's eager to try another principle. At the 1992 Canada East Championship, she defies Strike First and loses the gold. It's not the only loss that day. Her mother also dies, launching her father into an intercontinental search for the answer to an impossible question: How do you strike first at death? A bold, inventive novella with unforgettable characters, The Church of Wrestling shows that grief and obsession are full-contact sports, and family ties—even when seemingly broken—bind more tightly than a half nelson.
Praise for The Church of Wrestling:
"A story told through layers of nostalgia that are never sentimental, Emily Thomas Mani’s deft prose paints an authentic portrait of found family helping each other through their trauma and grief, clinging to the past in the face of an uncertain future. A wonderful debut."
—Michael Melgaard, author of Pallbearing
"We are all grappling with something, but rarely has an author more aptly captured wrestling as a metaphor or as a filter through which to understand grief, family, and faith than Emily Thomas Mani in The Church of Wrestling."
—Michael Chin, author of My Grandfather’s an Immigrant and So is Yours and Circus Folk
"What a gem of a book. Emily Thomas Mani gets the experience of being a child exactly right, as few writers can, in all its comforts, traumas, and absurdities, without condescension or sentimentality...a moving depiction of loss while retaining its subtle, sideways sense of humor, through a story that's unexpected at every turn."
—Kim Fu, author of The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore
"Thomas Mani inhabits the remarkable world of a girl navigating grief, life and love, while achingly bearing witness to those who wrestle with the uncontrollable. This acutely observed and deftly handled debut not only illuminates an extraordinary life, but also shines a light on a literary talent to watch."
—Sarah Meehan Sirk, author of The Dead Husband Project
"Through a child’s eyes—forced to see through an adult lens—it becomes clear that those who take care of us and those who care for us most aren’t always the same people at the same time."
—Mila Jaroniec, author of Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover
Emily Thomas Mani is originally from Brampton, Ontario and now lives in Toronto with her family. Her stories have appeared in Minola Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, long con magazine, and The Forge.