Thursday, September 14, 2017

Stephen Florida

31945100By: Gabe Habash
Location: FIC HAB
Genre: Young Adult Literary Fiction- coming of age

Foxcatcher meets The Art of Fielding

“In Stephen Florida, Gabe Habash has created a coming-of-age story with its own, often explosive, rhythm and velocity. Habash has a canny sense of how young men speak and behave, and in Stephen, he’s created a singular character: funny, ambitious, affecting, but also deeply troubled, vulnerable, and compellingly strange. This is a shape-shifter of a book, both a dark ode to the mysteries and landscapes of the American West and a complex and convincing character study.”
—Hanya Yanagihara, author of A Little Life

Stephen Florida follows a college wrestler in his senior season, when every practice, every match, is a step closer to greatness and a step further from sanity. Profane, manic, and tipping into the uncanny, it's a story of loneliness, obsession, and the drive to leave a mark.

The  hero of Gabe Habash’s debut novel is a young, sinewy, macho stud at a North Dakota college on a wrestling scholarship, hellbent on attaining a championship title.

If you’re rolling your eyes already, you stop it right now. My hatred of all things sports-related is unrivalled, and I absolutely loved this novel.

Stephen is—to put it mildly—singled-minded in his devotion to wrestling. He got into it in school back in Florida and after his parents’ tragic deaths when he was a teenager his motivation tripled as a way to shelve the grief.

He’s cocky and awkward, but somehow has managed to befriend a fellow wrestler at the college ("I’d rather be alone, and being with Linus is the same as being alone but also a fix for loneliness, a positive solitude") and stumble into a romantic relationship with a classmate ("Every step of her life dents the earth harder, like she’s sucking up more air than everyone else"). Through his bumbling attempts to connect with them, we see a lot of weird and wonderful bits of Stephen beneath all that strong, silent bravado.

So that when his behaviour starts to get weirder and weirder, I was already so deeply invested in him that I fretted over just how far over the line he was going to go. I certainly won’t spoil anything but let’s just say I was holding my breath a lot of the time, wondering how violent things might get, how psycho Stephen might turn out to be. I loved how Habash kept this tension throughout yet still gave me such an emotionally satisfying ending.

The descriptive passages about the actual wrestling were a joy to read. I am not interested in wrestling beyond its innate homoerotic potential, and probably didn’t understand a lot of what I was reading, but I was transfixed.

Stephen was written off as a strange guy, none too bright, by most of the other characters, but Habash gives us access to the quirky workings of his mind. Sometimes that was disturbing, to be sure, but often it was elating.

Most reviewers talk about how deeply this novel explores masculinity, intimacy and sexuality: it sure does all that! But what grabbed me by the collar was the depth of characterization and the brilliant writing that wrested Stephen up and off the page. Easily one of the best debut novels of 2017. Like the wrestler at its heart, the story is enigmatic and not easily pinned down.- Shawn Money

"Spanning a college wrestler's senior season, STEPHEN FLORIDA is unlike anything else. Eerie and unsettling, it can be hard to live in Stephen's head, but it is impossible to stop reading, or forget what you find there. As a character, Stephen is unpredictable, sympathetic, focused, frenzied, cold, and tender. He is hard to love and yet I love him. We are lucky to have a new novel like this: something you haven't seen before, that makes you remember what good fiction is capable of. "- Tyler

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