Review: Jeanie Clarke's riveting book shows a different side of Steve Austin

If you ever wanted to put pro wrestling on trial, Through The Shattered Glass could easily be cited by the defence and the prosecution.

On one hand, it shows how the business allowed a girl from a broken home in England to lead a glamorous life in America beyond her wildest dreams. However it also shows how the excesses and isolation of wrestling came within a whisker of destroying her.

As highlighted by the book’s title and cover, Jeanie “Lady Blossom” Clarke was the second wife of Steve Austin. Yet, the story told in this book is very much hers, and it is a fascinating one.

The majority of the book is spent detailing her time in America, but begins and ends in her native Britain. Clarke and co-writers Bradley Craig and Neil Cameron have an ultra-economical approach that allows them to cover a lot of ground very quickly. The first fourteen pages manages to detail her precarious upbringing in a home broken by her mother’s alcoholism. It’s a brisk account of life on the edge that deals matter-of-factly with details that sometimes take your breath away.

The Chris Adams Years

From there, it becomes a much lighter book. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of Have A Nice Day in how it explores life in the territorial era. While the writers lack Foley’s way with words, they do benefit from a racier story. Dragged along to a wrestling event by a friend, Clarke meets and falls in love with Chris Adams. Not only does she quickly become a celebrity as his valet in Joint Promotions, but both get the opportunity to move to Los Angles when Adams is offered a gig with NWA Hollywood.

She ultimately follows him as he moves from California to Portland, OR, and then to Dallas. The book does a good job of exploring all these different promotions with her overview of British wrestling being a particular highlight. We see her relationship with Adams first blossom amid the excitement of their American adventure then shrivel as he succumbs to the temptations of the road.

A real strength of the book, something repeated when it moves to her relationship with Austin, is Clarke’s perspective on the impact different companies can have on the morale of a wrestler. It’s really unique to hear from someone close to performers about how professional problems can destroy somebody’s confidence to the point it affects their home life. Another strength is it shows the lengths wrestlers took to develop their characters into money-drawing acts.

The Steve Austin Years

In addition to detailing all the subtle tricks Adams used to establish himself as a star, she described how he honed the idea of an ex-wife angle for years before finding the right person. That person was Austin. It’s worth noting that despite the book’s marketing being understandably focused on him, Austin doesn’t actually appear until halfway through. Over time, Austin replaces Adams as the book’s secondary character with a distant Adams becoming an increasingly twisted version of the man Clarke had once admired.

The book details Austin’s early courtship of Clarke, revealing a hitherto hidden sensitive side, including showing some early love letters. Those letters and pet names for Clarke confirms Austin’s love of goofy humour. Having briefly managed Austin in WCW, Clarke retires to Georgia when she falls pregnant with Austin’s first child. Whereas Adams was a gregarious playboy, Austin was a much less sociable character. Stories of wild nights out are swapped for a developing sense of domestic bliss as they build a life together. However, it didn’t last.

Even at the beginning of their relationship, Austin’s inability to talk about his feelings was a problem. As he became stressed about the issues he was facing in WCW, that reserved nature meant he bottled problems up. This intensified when Austin decided that he wanted to leave Georgia and move back to Texas. This move begins the haunting final third of the book.

Whereas the dissolution of her marriage with Adams was quick and reasonably amicable, here we see her life full apart. With Austin increasingly busy, she is left alone in the house. She struggles to bond with their next door neighbours, people who she castigates as racists who poisoned their marriage. When Austin is back, he increasingly wants to spend time by himself or drink with the neighbours. She escapes into a dream world powered by a variety of prescription drugs.

For a book that had been a happy recollections of an adventurous Englishwomen living abroad to take such a dark turn is extraordinary. It is also truly gripping. As he was becoming the biggest superstar the business has ever produced, Austin was battling to not just save his marriage but arguably his wife’s life. Things get even worse with Austin repeatedly trying to strongarm the authorities to take Clarke’s children away from her. Eventually, she ignores the terms of the divorce to escape back to England with not only her marriages having ended but her epic love affairs with wrestling and America having broken beyond repair.

The story of how she managed to piece back her life and walk away from the addictions is as uplifting as the story of her descent was horrifying. However, Austin’s difficult relationship with his daughters, and her estrangement from their half-sister, shows that she has not escaped the lasting damage caused.

Looking back at how she describes her relationship with Austin, there’s an odd sensation. She recounts how Austin socialised with racists, abused drugs, cheated on both her and his first wife, tried to steal her children and use the courts to control her after the divorce. However these events are written about in such a dispassionate way that it never feels like she’s trying to settle scores. She is, however, more outspoken on Austin’s relationship with his daughters. His third wife, Debra, receives much of the blame for souring his relationship with them but even after their divorce, the situation is still strained.

Clarke explicitly criticises Austin for failing to maintain sufficient contact or providing financial support after failing to secure sole custody. It is worth stating that some of these criticisms don’t fully chime with the events. For example, whilst she accuses Austin of having limited contact with his daughter, the book details him looking after his youngest daughter whilst Clarke was in rehab.

Back when he broke through in the mid-nineties, WWF delighted in reminding people how different Austin was to Hulk Hogan with official publications openly admitting that their current hero would’ve been hated by their eighties fan-base. Nowhere are the two men different than in how they’ve organised their private lives. Whereas Hogan’s life has been picked apart by a horde of reality shows, autobiographies and tabloid articles, Austin has retained a firm grip on his privacy.

Through The Shattered Glass is a rare example of fans being given a chance to see what the sport’s biggest superstar was like away from the cameras. But, it’s much more than a expose on Austin. Jeanie Clarke may have only performed fleetingly, but she was around the business for two decades. She saw Gino Hernadez’s body be discovered, helped launched Steve Austin on the national scene and came up with his “Stone Cold” moniker. Her book efficiently tells a riveting story that shows just how exciting the highs offered by pro wrestling can be, and how destructive the lows are.