The Longshot

longshot‘Hemingway’s returned to life – and this time, he’s a woman,’ Tom McCarthy raves on the back cover of Katie Kitamura’s debut novel. Such claims are generally greeted with scepticism, if not derision – Hemingway is one of those writers who, as the cliche goes, are often imitated but never equalled. But Kitamura comes close in this short, powerful work.

Cal – ‘The Kid’ – is a boxer travelling down to Mexico for a rematch with Rivera, the champion that knocked him out of a winning run four years ago. The novel centres on the upcoming fight and unfolds slowly – we get the border crossing, the cafe lunch, the hotel check-in; mundanities that ooze by when there is a reckoning to come. Kitamura knows what waiting is like and she also knows boxing: the depth of her technical detail, woven seamlessly into the narrative, suggests not just good research but a spooky, telepathic empathy.

Yet it’s the relationship between Cal and his trainer Riley that holds your attention; the older man acts like a counsellor and father figure, but we come to realise that he’s deluded, full of illusions about Cal and his own dependency on the younger man. In praising The Longshot, you’re tempted to reach for ringside metaphor (knockout punch, going the distance, reeling on the ropes) but it’s enough to say that Katimura can do what the classic American novelists could do: write about the complexities of simple men.

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