Vision Quest: The Book, The Movie, The Man


February 2, 2011 by David Gillaspie

Terry Davis In The Shop

Walk in another man’s shoes, and your feet smell like his.

Read another man’s book and you still get the smell, especially a novel with wrestling involved.

All stories have wrestling, or an element of wrestling in them, and we love it. 

Characters wrestling with a place in the world (Catcher In The Rye.)

Characters wrestling with a dog and losing (To Build A Fire, by Jack London.)

Characters wrestling on the mat (The World According To Garp.)

Characters not wrestling enough (Vision Quest.)

All wrestlers have heard of or seen Vision Quest; not so many read the novel.  It’s classified as Young Adult, or YA, so it’s got the ‘safe for kids’ brand.

It’s more adult than young adult though, the same way wrestling is more primal than any ball sport.

Vision Quest is pretty raw in the day to day life of the hero whose mom took off for another guy; who met a girl and invited her to live with him and his dad and seems like an old married couple during his senior year in high school; who works in a hotel with a chronically naked-man guest. 

No spoilers up there.

Terry Davis gave us a good take on basketball player vs wrestler when the wrestler gets the girl.  It’s his take on wrestling I wonder about, and so should you.

Instead of a guts, and sweat, and sacrifice-your-body-to-the-sport sort of wrestling novel, Davis goes for context.  He puts wrestling into the community at large, not just the wrestling community, or sports community.

Louden Swain works in a downtown hotel so we get to know those people.  He has friends and family so we get them too.  He has the love of his life beside him, a woman experienced beyond her years who embraces the beauty of the earth and the river just like he does.

John Irving says Vision Quest is the truest book about growing up since Catcher in the Rye.  You’ve read that?  A kid leaves boarding school and walks around Manhattan.  The end.  Plus everything else.

Vision Quest didn’t need wrestling to succeed as a young adult novel.  It stands up by itself.  Wrestling just makes it better. 

Other things are like that.

What’s the last thing you put on french fries?  Ketchup.  You can get fries that stand alone, ones dipped in garlic sauce and cooked in pepper-oil, but without the ketchup who cares?

Without wrestling, Vision Quest roams Spokane and the countryside like Sherwood Anderson beating around Winesburg, Ohio. 

With wrestling, it gathers elements of Fight Club.

The great Dan Russell tells a story about his match prep and how he answers this question:

Have I done everything I can to be ready to wrestle?  To win?

Do I see myself on a podium?

Okay, I made the last one up, but it’s a real question.  Do you see yourself on a podium?  If you do, hang onto to it.  If you don’t, find a way.

In the end, Terry Davis reminds us it’s all about the quest, the journey toward goals, that matters most. 

I’ll take it further:  once you feel the sense of quest in wrestling, you’ll sense it everywhere.  It’s about winning, yes, but more about what it takes to win the way you want to win.

How do you want to win?  There’s an entire universe between a five second pin and a forfeit; between settling for a close loss and taking a chance to win.

The important thing is to realize the choices wrestling gives.  Do the training, shake hands in the center of the mat, and let it fly.  What you do with the choices after that tells who you are. 

Knowing who you are and living up to it keeps you on the right quest.  Others see your example and how it might help them.  

That’s what anyone who cares wants for others.  Go ahead and tell someone, “You’re better than you think,” and you’ll be right.


One thought on “Vision Quest: The Book, The Movie, The Man

  1. David Gillaspie says:

    An Update:

    In the writing wrestler trio Mark Palmer notes, namely Ken Kesey, John Irving, and Terry Davis, I’ve heard from two of the three, (I count Kesey’s kids.)

    That’s a big deal. Bigger still is the turnout from you guys. Call me naive, but a thousand hits on one post in one day sends a message.

    Here’s my take:

    I haven’t mentioned Vision Quest in DG’s B&B because I wanted to be certain I ‘got it.’ Not the movie, not a review, but the story.

    Skimmer readers like me, maybe you, read the next thing, then the next, until something lights up. Then we read more and more. It’s like channel cruising when you stop on a show that hooks you.

    I read Vision Quest on that line.

    It’s a story from 1973, the year I graduated from high school. I’ve tried writing my own quest book, but now I don’t have to. Substitute North Bend for Spokane and it’s the same story. All wrestling teams and wrestling busses have a heirarchy.

    Except I wouldn’t tell a quest story the same as Terry Davis, and neither would you.

    Writing’s not easy, which is a way to remind you to take a look around. You’re going down the same roads year after year, but you’re not the same person. Take note of what you see different each time and start your own quest-log. More writing wrestlers and less vampire tales.

    I’m no writing teacher, but I’ll play one in the blogosphere. Terry Davis is a writing teacher and a writer. Vision Quest comes from a guy who attended the Iowa Writers Workshop like John Irving, and Stanford’s Wallace Stegner Fellowship like Ken Kesey. Probably not by accident. He wanted it and got his ticket punched at the best schools.

    I sent a link to Davis’ college email address and he returned it from his motorcycle shop. How cool is that?

    The man took the time to respond to a blogger? I like to think it’s because I read Vision Quest and ‘got it.’ (Take an inventory of what you’re all about and check the list with others doing what you’re doing. Make changes as needed.)

    When you guys hit a link this hard, and the subject of the post even hits back, DG’s B&B has no vacancies available.

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