Friday, October 2, 2009

Review: And the winner is…

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Comparing a novelist to another novelist is an unfair and shoddy form of criticism. But when a novelist is touted as the next Ernest Hemingway, one must react with either stern skepticism or a chuckle at the publicist’s audacity. I chose the latter. The Longshot by Katie Kitamura is a novel written in pared, brief sentences much akin to those of America’s favorite lion hunting author.

The Longshot follows Cal, a mixed-martial arts fighter, and his long time trainer, Riley, as they prepare for a fight with the champion. Cal stood toe-to-toe with the champ before and walked away on his own; a feat no one had done or has done since. Still, Cal is a longshot and he knows this every moment of the book.

I’ve sat on this review for a long while because I am an over-thinker. I usually associate brief sentence structure with a writer inability to delve into the depths of his or her characters. With that being said, The Longshot needed that sort of language in order for the reader to understand the relationship between Cal and Riley. The two have likely spent the last four years side by side, yet neither can muster more than a few words to the other—it’s how the trainer/fighter relationship works and Kitamura is keenly aware of this.

Kitamura drifts between past and present with ease and never lingers too long during her exposition. Nothing in the novel is too long. Everything exists in brief moments and reactions. Punch. Counter-punch. Combo.

I’ve read a few reviews that claim the ending is ambiguous, but I think it’s quite clear. It just isn’t dwelled upon. The main question throughout the novel is: Can the longshot win? When it’s answered, the novel ends.

The novel is beautiful in its brevity and is worth reading. I cannot say I am a huge MMA fan, but I do fancy some of the bigger battles. With boxing nearly defunct—especially heavyweight—MMA is primed to replace it, but my assumption is (and I apologize if it’s poor) that many of the lingerers don’t fancy pugilism. Is a novel’s topic the most important factor when picking up a book? How strong does a review have to be to sway your opinion? Or, have I completely misjudged the readers and ignored our huge boxing contingent?

Review copy provided by author.

2 comments:

Salvatore said…

The reason why I picked this book up was because someone talked pretty passionately about it. And when she said that it was MMA, it was an even harder sell. But eventually her words won out and, after reading the first chapter, I was completely engrossed. So I'm certainly glad I embarked on this one. And it's stayed with me for about a year now.

It is a beautiful, spare novel; and it doesn't need to be anything more than that. You're absolutely right about why the author chooses not to dwell on things.

Pitch perfect.

ChristinaO said…

Fun Fact – the cover is actually a photo of Kitamura's brother. Although he did get the tattoos after the book was picked up.