Since I seem to have been living under a rock these past few months, I heard about Foxcatcher The Book about a month before I heard about Foxcatcher The Movie. And for some reason, even though I tend to stay far, far away from the true crime genre — I seriously went out on a limb here — the book grabbed my attention. Then I saw the trailer for the movie, which sealed the deal: I was interested.
In January 1996, millionaire John du Pont shot and murdered Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz, who worked and trained at the facilities on du Pont’s family farm, Foxcatcher. Du Pont then holed himself up at the farm held police at bay for two days before surrendering. The book is written by Dave’s brother, Mark, who is also an Olympic gold medal winner who once worked and trained at Foxcatcher; he was there to witness many of du Pont’s dark moods.
According to Schultz, du Pont was “a loser” who was always high and constantly needed people to like him. He had once aspired to be an Olympian himself but didn’t have the talent for it, so he threw his money around to buy recognition in the form of buildings named after him, and eventually, a team of elite athletes of that he could gather at his farm and pretend to be in charge of. Enter Mark Schultz, who, like many champion wrestlers, had plenty of awards but no financial backing. He was living in poverty with no insurance, and when an offer came to coach and train at Foxcatcher — where he was supposed to be left on his own — he couldn’t pass it up.
Du Pont being a control freak with an oversized ego, he asserted himself almost immediately: it became clear that he’d be shadowing Mark’s every move and try to claim responsibility for any success that came Mark’s way. That did not sit well with Mark, who ended up having no control and no time to train, so he eventually left Foxcatcher. Du Pont then courted his brother, David, to come work for him; all the while, du Pont’s behavior and drug use were getting more erratic. The rest is history.
You’d think the book would explore all of this in greater detail, right? That it would be the whole point: his brother was murdered by this crazy heir to a fortune and he wanted to give more insight into the whole thing? Well…you’d be wrong.
The book is The Mark Schultz Story. It’s about wrestling. Save for a brief early chapter about the du Pont family — which was basically tantamount to being thrown a bone to keep people reading — the entire first half of the book is about Mark’s rise in wrestling. There’s stuff about Dave, too, but it’s mostly about Mark and wrestling. Wrestling technique, wrestling woes, wrestling drama, wrestling competitions. Wrestling. (Have I mentioned I don’t like sports?)
The second half talks about more about what happened at Foxcatcher and explores why wrestlers would be drawn into du Pont’s web in the first place (poverty has a lot to do with it), but it just wasn’t enough. As for the writing — I’m assuming that’s all on David Thomas — it’s passable, but not great. Some parts, mostly the parts related to competitions, are way too boneheaded jock for my taste. (And there are typos. There are typos in the finished copy.)
When it comes down to it, hey, it’s his memoir. He can write about whatever he wants from whatever perspective he wants. If I were an Olympian and world champion at something and I got the chance to publish my life story, I’d probably do the same and make it all about me, too. But that’s the thing: it’s not being marketed as Mark Schultz’s memoir. It’s being marketed mostly as true crime/memoir nonfiction — movie tie-in! — that revolves around a very intense, high-profile murder, and that’s not the book that readers get.
Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold was released in November 2014 by Dutton Adult, an imprint of Penguin Random House.