Chris McCormick’s tightly knit second novel begins and ends in anonymity. The opening scene finds an Irish professional wrestler searching for a pub, and the final scene is haunted by the shell of a character—bookends that are a testament to the novel’s timeless, universal message about the fine line between performance and authenticity.
In the 1970s, Ruben and Avo are Armenian cousins-of-cousins, but they’ve considered themselves brothers ever since Avo, a lovable giant, defended the bookish Ruben from classmates’ taunting. Then Ruben’s backgammon opponent, Mina, falls for affable Avo. When Ruben and Mina leave for a backgammon competition in Paris, Avo fears he’ll never see them again. Ruben disappears into France and beyond, and Avo becomes a professional wrestler in America. The triumvirate do eventually meet one another again, under circumstances none of them could have imagined. Many years later, Mina seeks out Terry, Avo’s American pro-wrestling manager, to fill in the gaps of Avo’s mysterious past.
The novel takes place in the generation after the Armenian genocide, incorporating Turkey’s denial of the event into its themes of deception and identity. Chapters toggle among the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, reinforcing time’s circularity. It becomes clear that whether or not historical atrocities are acknowledged, they inevitably shape the past, present and future.
For all the literal and figurative backstabbing throughout the book, there’s plenty of caring, too. The characters’ eccentricities—Terry’s love of cats, Avo’s fanny pack, Ruben’s stiff suit, Mina’s luck—set them apart as much as they draw them to each other. The story plays with the tension between our differences and similarities while also questioning what’s genuine and what’s an act.
McCormick’s facility for metaphor encourages us to keep asking questions and pushing boundaries. Through these creative associations, The Gimmicks stretches the reader’s imagination and capacity for empathy.