Book Review: "Ugly as Sin" by James Newman
When I was first turned onto James Newman by his sometimes partner-in-crime, Adam Howe, I felt like I was meeting (through their creative birthing) a cat who spoke my language with the same dialect. I sought out one of his solo works to see if I was right about my first reaction, and I wasn’t disappointed. A North Carolina guy like me, James has a voice that is both grounded and lurid in the same breath…which brings me to Ugly as Sin.
Nick Bullman is “The Widowmaker”, one of (if not the) most famous wrestler of his day. At six foot nine inches tall and almost 300 pounds, Nick was a terrifying presence even before two confused marks knock him out, tie him up, and proceed to cut off his face faster than you can say “It’s real to me, dammit!”. Now he’s a true monster, a horribly disfigured nightmare that makes Kane look like a pet bunny rabbit. That’s only half the tale, though- Nick’s story is the classic wrestler’s fall from grace. His fame is gone, and he’s left with a hollow life. The only thing he has left in the world is a daughter, Melissa, who barely knows him; life on the road and a selfish hunger to be the top guy saw to that. When she reaches out to him with a tearful call, Nick is floored. He returns to his hometown of Midnight, North Carolina to a broken daughter and a kidnapped granddaughter named Sophie that he didn’t even know he had. Nick now has a chance to atone for his past mistakes and reconnect with his family, but to do so he must brave a dangerously bizarre situation that even being the World’s Heavyweight Champion couldn’t prepare him for.
As with his work in Scapegoat (written with Adam Howe), it’s clear that Newman knows his stuff and has a deep affection for America’s greatest form of entertainment. The Lance K. McDougall III is a clear (and lovingly critical) homage to the Attitude Era Vince McMahon, right down to his origin story and amazing hair. Nick’s in-ring persona of “the Widowmaker” (a.k.a. The Maker) is another homage, this time to the G.O.A.T., The Undertaker. Even his portrayal of the two marks who can’t separate fantasy from reality and decide to mutilate Nick are note-perfect. As a lifelong wrestling fan, I knew people like that just didn’t get it, ya’ know? It’s art imitating life in that aforementioned grounded but lurid way, and the world of pro wrestling is the absolute perfect setting.
Where Ugly as Sin hits home, though, is in the setting of Midnight, North Carolina. The South is full of towns just like Midnight where time hasn’t necessarily forgotten the local populace but has instead blown past it and left them to slowly fester. I suppose you could say the same for the whole United States, but in the South it has a certain flavor that Newman is clearly intimate with. The way Nick is viewed as both a hometown hero and a leper is disgustingly accurate of that judgmental, small-town mentality.
Through the course of events, Nick’s real character is refreshing and deeply felt. He’s a good man who got caught up in a literal circus world but isn’t afraid to own his choices and their consequences. You should be able to identify with and even look up to a strong protagonist, and Nick Bullman is utterly human inside his monstrous frame. The development of he and Melissa’s relationship handled deftly.
The action and the unraveling evil deeds behind it, though, are one hundred percent far-out and insane in way that pairs with a pro wrestling backdrop like a good nutshot goes with a hard oversell. The cast of villains is more than a little zany, and I personally appreciate that. It kept the tone nice and consistent. The pace of the action is frenetic, with Nick having just enough time to breathe before moving on to the next development. The finish came, if anything, a little too quickly for my liking; another (if unintentional) wrestling motif. I would’ve liked to see events with Daddy play out for a little bit longer, especially given the Big Trouble in Little China quality of the whole final act.
What Newman gives you in Ugly as Sin is an unblinking look at the price you pay for celebrity in a business where devotion is utter and complete, as well as in a country where being famous is the ultimate goal. The hand he paints that with is heavy but true.
Just don’t say I didn’t warn you when you get that stiff punch that he never had any intention of pulling.
Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Ugly-As-Sin-James-Newman-ebook/dp/B01ND0VERF/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=Ugly+as+Sin+by+James+Newman&qid=1552344879&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmrnull
Barnes & Noble Link: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ugly-as-sin-james-newman/1123438336?ean=9781937009502&st=PLA&sid=BNB_ADL+Core+Generic+Books+-+Desktop+Medium&sourceId=PLAGoNA&dpid=tdtve346c&2sid=Google_c&gclid=Cj0KCQjwjpjkBRDRARIsAKv-0O3HJNTa4Fwyqmw1UwY8C_RmamKBCsj8mvy8sWl1x-fmlg1oQMg_kR4aAmoVEALw_wcB