The Longshot by Katie Kitamura
Along the lines of Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and Neal Bascomb’s The Perfect Mile being running books, or Chris Cleave’s Gold a biking title, or Thien Pham’s Sumo and Gail Tsukiyama’s The Street of a Thousand Blossoms sumo wrestling books, Katie Kitamura‘s debut is a boxing novel – or mixed martial arts, to be more exact. As she was named one of the five finalists for the The New York Public Library’s 2010 Young Lions Fiction Award for The Longshot (she was again thusly honored as a finalist in 2013 for her latest, Gone to the Forest), clearly her spare title is so much more than about throwing a good punch.
The Longshot examines the 10-year relationship between two men – a fighter and his coach – as they prepare for an MMA re-match that will forever change their futures, both individually and together. The men arrive in Tijuana, Mexico, to check into a $46/night motel three days before Cal will once more face Rivera, to whom he lost a fateful match four years ago. Rivera remains undefeated. By Riley’s estimation, Cal’s looking “‘the best I’ve seen you in a long time,'” as both men duly ready themselves for what’s to come.
Clocking in at less than 200 pages (or just under five hours as resonantly, intensely read by the fabulous Mark Bramhall), the novel’s brevity might initially seem misleading. But just as fighters must make every punch count, Kitamura writes with honed efficacy as she creates three portentous days, especially dense with psychological detail that move swiftly through to the final bell.
For Kitamura, writing Longshot was a family affair. She reveals in an interview on her publisher’s website (which you should only read after the novel, in order to avoid spoilers), that when she decided “to write something about fighting … [her] brother was a great guide to the sport.” Research was conducted à deux: “We’ve been to fights around the world together, watched and rewatched our favorite fights, endlessly debated the strengths and weaknesses of individual fighters,” she reveals. “We’re pretty extravagantly different; while I was studying for a Ph.D. in American literature he was busy establishing himself as one of the top tattoo artists in the world. But fighting is something we’re both completely passionate about.” When Kitamura finished her book, her brother celebrated with – what else? – a tattoo: “He’s now had the word LONGSHOT tattooed on his knuckles, and that’s the cover image for the book.” Sibling support doesn’t get much more graphic than that!
Readers: Young Adult, Adult