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:
"The Church of Wrestling is a short, powerful novella about the ways losses can be shared and the ways they cannot. A story told through layers of nostalgia that are never sentimental, Emily 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. The narrator learns early that it’s worth a lot of points to throw an opponent, and so too does Mani expertly send readers flying through unexpected circumstances that persistently subvert expectations. There’s the rush of a surprising outcome to an early wrestling match, the twist of abject loss making the protagonist a better student, the peace that comes from bootleg VHS recordings of popular TV shows, and—perhaps least likely of all—the ways in which a half-baked new religion might succeed at drawing people together. Mani’s is a story worth reading and rereading to study its craft and see if you can trace every first strike, counter, and reversal en route to the final pin."
—Michael Chin, author of My Grandfather’s an Immigrant and So is Yours and Circus Folk
"What a gem of a book. 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. The Church of Wrestling grows into 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
"In The Church of Wrestling, Emily Thomas Mani deconstructs the concept of family. 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