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At age 26, scrawny, Oxford-educated Samuel Fussell entered a YMCA gym in New York to escape the terrors of big city life. Four years and 80 lbs. of firm, bulging muscle later, he was competing for bodybuilding titles in the "Iron Mecca" of Southern California-so weak from intense training and starvation he could barely walk. MUSCLE is the harrowing, often hilarious chronicle of Fussell's divine obsession, his search for identity in a bizarre, eccentric world of "health fascists," "gym bunnies" and ...
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At age 26, scrawny, Oxford-educated Samuel Fussell entered a YMCA gym in New York to escape the terrors of big city life. Four years and 80 lbs. of firm, bulging muscle later, he was competing for bodybuilding titles in the "Iron Mecca" of Southern California-so weak from intense training and starvation he could barely walk. MUSCLE is the harrowing, often hilarious chronicle of Fussell's divine obsession, his search for identity in a bizarre, eccentric world of "health fascists," "gym bunnies" and "muscleheads"-and his devout, single-minded acceptance of illness, pain, nausea, and steroid-induced rage in his quest for the holy grail of physical perfection.
Fascinating, funny, wrenching and poignant, this account of one man's initiation into the surreal world of professional bodybuilders has been hailed as "an inspiring book" full of "eccentric characters and . . . crackling vernacular" (The Boston Globe). Fussell details the agonizing regimen that gave him 80 added pounds of muscle--a transformation that was as much spiritual as physical. 8 pages of photographs.
Bodybuilders call it "the disease." Its symptoms include a complete commitment to all matters pertaining to iron. Not the kind of iron you use to press your clothes, but the kind they use to create bulges and muscular mounds in their bodies. You find "the diseased" in bookstores hovering by the rack containing the muscle magazines (invariably adjacent to the pornography). You overhear them in vitamin stores, discussing the merits of branch-chain amino acids and protein powders. You scan them on the subway, their hypertrophied bodies a silent, raging scream of dissent. And, walking to work in the morning, you can see them through the windows of their gyms, hoisting and heaving weights in a lifting frenzy.
Most of them catch the disease during the years of adolescence. On the back pages of comic books, scrawny teens find advertisements for chest expanders and chin-up bars. For many that's where the affair ends: in an unmailed letter or as cobwebbed, unused equipment piled in the basement. But for a few--the truly afflicted--the arrival of the equipment is just the beginning. Within a matter of months, they graduate from chest expanders to bench presses, from pull-ups to squats. Eventually, as their bodies fill out and the dream takes hold, they gravitate from distant neighborhoods to their own kind in the gyms of the city.
This was not my story. I passed into my mid-twenties knowing nothing of the disease. Until the age of twenty-six, in fact, my life was filled with books. I began my course of reading at a prep school called Lawrenceville and continued it through my graduation from Oxford University. Until then, everything was set. The son of two university professors ofEnglish, I was next in line to assume the academic mantle. My parents' only cause for concern was the fact that I preferred American literature to English.
The trouble began when I moved back to New York City for a year off after Oxford before I was to enter graduate school. Within a month I found a sublet on the Upper East Side and a job in publishing. But suddenly and spectacularly my health began to deteriorate, First it was my lungs (the doctors diagnosed pleurisy), then it was a fever (this time, pneumonia). Despite medications, my condition did not improve. Colds, hot flashes, chills-one malady replaced another.
My arrival at work every morning set off a communal buzz of concern. At six feet four and 170 pounds sopping wet, I had always been gaunt, But now, with rasping lungs and cadaverous complexion, I looked like an outpatient from Bellevue (which, in fact, I was). I publicly tried to pass off my predicament as nothing serious--[ was just feeling a little under the weather, I said. Things would take a turn for the better come spring, I was sure of it.
And my friends averred that this must be the case. They took me out to lunch and tried to take my mind off my health. But all along, I knew the cause of my own particular disorder; I was just loath to admit it. The problem, you see, was New York. It terrified me. To divulge my fears seemed cowardly, somehow unworthy of the city. But finally, among the lunch gathering, bracketed by a coughing fit, I let it all out. Was I the only one, I asked haltingly, living in a constant state of terror in the city? Did others also find themselves under siege?
As soon as I admitted it, the facts and figures came tumbling out of my mouth. The rapes, the muggings, the assaults, the murders. Those were the majors, but the minors were just as bad. I felt trapped by the teeming populace, dwarfed by skyscrapers, suffocated by the fumes from factories and expressways. And then there was Jerry, and men like him.
"Jerry?" they asked.
I was surprised they didn't know him. He seemed to be on a first name basis with much of the city.
"Hi, Jews for Jesus! Jerry here-that's with a J!" he would shout, as soon as he spotted my head on the subway escalator each morning at Grand Central. Sandwich board and all, he waited for me at the top of the platform, plucking me out from the hundreds of other Commuters fore and aft.
"How ya doin, Stretch?" he'd begin, all smiles and concern, draping an arm around my shoulder. And then, in an abrupt change of tone, he'd pounce: 'What I mean to say is . . . how do you feel about . . . tomorrow?"
I explained to growing laughter around the table that Jerry was just one of many "friends" drawn to me through the course of the day like slivers of steel to a magnet. Something about me seemed to appeal to every deadbeat, con artist, and self-proclaimed philosopher of the city. No matter where I turned, confidence tricksters hounded my path.
At the conclusion of my painful monologue, I sat back exhausted, shamed that I was so vulnerable. And then, suddenly, merry voices chimed in from all sides at the table. Apparently, I'd struck a chord after all. There was Niels, who exulted in the fact that his wet, limp clothes had been scattered across the laundromat floor by a street tough when he hadn't removed them from the washer on time. There was Matthew, rocking in his chair in delight, as he told us of the gray-suited man who followed him home one day, lowered his trousers on Matthew's doorstep in mid-afternoon, and defecated on his welcome mat. Troopers together, everyone seemed to have their stories to tell.
What had happened in the recent past to the newscaster Dan Rather had, in one form or another, happened to us all. Two men had accosted Rather on the street, and took turns beating him, all the while asking him the question: "What is the frequency, Kenneth?" Self-consciously, I joined the laughter at the table in the retelling of the story. It was agreed that the fact that it made no sense made perfect sense.
Posted January 18, 2008
This book is so true to the mind of the wanna be bodybuilder, it is hilarious in all its aspects. The writer truly achieves great story telling. From start to finish, anyone can understand what it is that drives a man through pain and suffering simply in search of himself, love, respect, and happiness. This book is beautiful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 31, 2003
Excellent book. I once had a brick that i was going to throw through the TV screen. Sam be's like, you're one sputnik gone awry. Still, i could use an autographed copy.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 2, 2003
This is a great book that shows the behind the door side of bodybuilding. The author holds nothing back. This is a must read for any aspiring bodybuilder that is contemplating taking steroids.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 30, 2001
Posted August 7, 2001
Posted January 23, 2001
Let's face it, each one of us are unlikely bodybuilders and after reading Sam's book for the fourth or fifth time (I lost count) I have come to the conclusion that I must display my appreciation for a timeless piece of literature. Only after you acquire 'the disease' can you value Sam's devotion to Shangri-La and his roomates. Wittingly hilarious and superbly written, Muscle simply cannot be read one time. Ironically, I've read several top bodybuilder's autobiographies and Sam's is by far the best because he opens all of bodybuildings closet doors and leaves nothing uncovered. Sammy, get on that freight train and write another confession and don't fail to include Vinnie. He is a legend and constantly quoted at my gym.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 31, 2000
Samuel Fussell¿s Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder is full of accurate information about the bodybuilding world. Fussell paves his way to a huge mass of muscular armor through ambition and extreme dedication -- dedication to life-threatening starvation, training, and anabolic steroids. His dedication, though, is false, for he seeks to hide his true self. In addition, his novel tells a tale of the rise and fall of self. It is the tale of a bright young man seeking his own identity, only to face confusion and the fear of the other. In response, Samuel casts aside his Oxford education and dons the mask and ¿walk¿ of the bodybuilder. Does Samuel succeed in his narrative? Are the structure and form of his prose comforting and compelling to the reader? Of course. He writes with authority and exactness; his Oxford education and literary background bleed through this novel¿s attractive prose and creative tone. From the training bodybuilder to the person questioning his or her own identity, Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder is a worthwile examination of human nature and the persuit of individuality.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.