A Classical Review - Yes!: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania

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At its core, the professional wrestler autobiography genre is a road diary, where an entire world is opened up to us and we are invited to be a fly on the wall of locker rooms and behind the curtain of a travelling circus. And in that sense, (Daniel) Bryan Danielson’s recently released Yes!: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania is a success. If also one that struggles significantly, and never quite succeeds in, providing a genuine raison d’etre beyond offering Danielson a chance to chronicle what may be the last great run of his career and how he got there, in every sense of the word.

The book splits its time between the build-up for WrestleMania XXX – written by Craig Tello in the highly problematic WWE.com house style (which we’ll get to in a bit) – and Bryan’s career essentially through the end of that show, but never quite allows itself to be either.

Tello’s work is particularly distracting, using the WWE’s bombastic marketing voice, where the editorial rule of thumb seems to be “why use a noun, when you have two adverbs and an adjective just sitting here!” And while that may work for WWE announcers or on a post about the Top 10 Best Layla Pictures From Last Week, it completely derails the rhythm of nearly every chapter to have them all started with a WWE approved version of every “significant” moment in the build up to the biggest show in the company’s history.

From referring to Bryan as The Yes Man somewhere around a dozen times in the book for some insane reason, to literally using the phrase “sucking face” to describe a kiss between Brie and Bryan in a dimly lit restaurant, nearly every instance is problematic. With Tello spending so much time fawning over Bella that he can’t close a coherent anecdote, these needless interstitials are to professional wrestling autobiographies what Vince Russo was to good taste.

Worse than being distractingly overwritten, however, the tone of the segments (which are printed in italics so you can easily determine which part of each chapter are ripe to be skipped over) is so candy-coated kayfabe that it somehow makes everything in the book less interesting. For that – and honestly for most of it, as it’s hard to imagine that his sections weren’t scrubbed clean of anything interesting by the Powers That Be – Tello doesn’t seem at fault. Though he does lean in a bit when describing the upcoming match between Bryan and HHH as some kind of legitimate competition between two forces representing fundamental aspects of the business instead of, you know, a professional wrestling match between a guy and his boss.

Tello’s sections are not totally without redemption, however, as whenever Bryan is able to become a tangible part of the parallel universe (and not just a star far off in the distance being described by a marketing committee) these bits spring to life and genuinely add flavor to a storytelling style as bland as a Baron Corbin match.

And Bryan shines as a not just a performer, but a human being, at least once he’s moved past his early childhood. While nominally interesting as a function of being part of his journey, the distance Bryan almost intentionally seems to be putting between himself and that time in his life means that the story doesn’t really hit its stride until he arrives in San Antonio to begin working with Shawn Michaels.

From an emotional standpoint, the book -- somewhat surprisingly given its title -- reaches its pinnacle not at the end of WrestleMania XXX, but in the aftermath of the Show of Shows (which is said somewhere in the vicinity of 8,000,000 times by Tello in yet another of his distracting, Joey Styles-approved affectations). Between his wedding to Bri and the untimely death of his father, the last few chapters, where he no longer having to fit into a specific narrative or shackled to a specific word count for a specific period in his life, are able to breathe life and emotion into a story that had been slightly lacking in either through no fault of Danielson’s.

It doesn’t have the level of narrative momentum or genuine procedural insight that can be found in Bret Hart’s Hitman or any of Chris Jericho’s books. But Yes! allows readers to understand, if not how wrestling works, then why someone like the 5’9” Danielson from Aberdeen, WA would want to be a professional wrestler. It allows us to see Bryan as an artist who loves entertaining -- having dedicated himself to that idea in spite of the emotional hardships and missed moments that come with a life spent on the road -- and wants to share these stories with us.

Which is pretty hard to say no to.

Yes!: My Improbably Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania By Daniel Bryan: 3 Bodyslams out of 5 German Suplexes

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