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on 2 May 2017
Very readable, terse, Hemingwayesque story about the doubts facing an MMA fighter when he comes back to fight a monster of the ring - the first opponent to ever beat him in a fight. Not ever having been in a formal fight, I cannot say how true to life the inner turmoil of a fighter is before such an event, but Kitamura's account is pretty darned convincing. There must be a few MM Artists/boxers who have been tempted to do a runner before a particularly fearsome opponent. Another reviewer questioned the likelihood of the protagonist gutsing himself the day before the fight, but this, I think, is because he was coming in pounds underweight in the first place.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 February 2014
I was so ignorant of this subject that I thought that mixed martial arts was similar to mixed doubles at tennis. I now know it to be 'a full contact combat sport that allowing both full-body striking and grappling techniques, both standing and on the ground, familiar from other combat sports. The sport is popular in Brazil, Mexico, Japan and brought to the United States in 1993'.

The debut novella is essentially a spare, two-hander considering ex-fighter and trainer Riley and a once-exciting young prospect, Cal, who arrive in Tijuana to fight a long-delayed return match with Rivera, an undefeated and seemingly-indestructible fighter. Following this earlier defeat ‘Fighting was never easy again. He took some losses. He sat and waited for his head to get back into the game. He waited fight after fight and then it hit him how long he’d been waiting’. The sport is a bestial one and this is reflected in the story which takes place over the 3 days running up to the fight. Whilst the author is deeply knowledgeable about the almost choreographic moves that may fly over the heads of most readers, these and the resulting violence are always placed at the service of her narrative. Unlike Hemingway and Mailer, she does not glory in the violence.

Instead, the book focuses on the relationship between the two men as the enormity of the bout and its possible consequences become starker. The novella portrays the depth and psychological complexity of the athlete/trainer relationship, the monastic devotion to training and the financial and social pressures on young to dedicate their lives to the sport. Neither man is a talker and the book beautifully integrates their internal musings and talk about the fight. The style is one of short, sharp sentences, attacks almost, with few long words. ‘Up until then [Cal] had seen only one half of the game. He had only seen the winning half. When you stayed in the winning half you could see the game in a certain way. When you dropped into the other half the game looked different. It looked real. You saw that you could get hurt. Being in the ring became different after that’.

Katie Kitamura carries the reader along, into an almost completely male world where women appear fleetingly. Riley sees an incredibly young talent, from Rivera’s stable ‘Well, it was something. Seeing what the next generation was going to look like. He thought about it and then re realized how old he was. How old Cal was. The numbers just hit him in the face. It was like the game had past both of them’.

On the morning of the fight, Cal takes a long early walk to gather himself together. ‘He came across a bunch of old women cleaning the sidewalks. They were throwing pails of water onto the ground and then they were sweeping up the water with long wooden brooms. They moved out of the way as he walked by. He nodded hello. The nodded back. He stepped through the water. When he had passed they continue sweeping. He could here the swishing of the brooms and the splash of water’.

Later, when they arrive at the venue, ‘Cal stopped. He had time for the fans. All fighters had time for the fans. It wasn’t about vanity or ego. The fans saw the fighters. They saw them as they really were in the ring. They reminded them of what they really were, in the ring. They reminded them of what they were capable of doing. Before a fight, the fans were just about the best world coming….. He signed things. He said hey. He posed for pictures. Riley stayed by his side. He didn’t move an inch’.

As Cal heads to the ring, ‘His head was light. His body was light. It was the detail that was doing it. Everywhere there was detail. He placed his hands on the ropes. The grain of the rope, each individual piece of ribbing – just the touch was enough to burn him. His toe brushed against the canvas, and he felt the give of the ground against the tug of the nail. It wasn’t just the rope and canvas. He could feel the detail in everything’.

Cal lacks the invincibility of Rivera; he has doubts, as does Riley. How they contain those while preparing for the fight constitutes much of the drama of this wonderful debut. This is a remarkable debut made more so be the assured way Kitamura gets inside the heads of Cal and Riley. It is a short read but an inspiring one and not, I cannot repeat this too much, not just for fans of [violent] sport. I look forward to her forthcoming work with great interest.
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on 5 August 2009
It doesnt matter if you are not a fan of Mixed Martial Arts, describing the Longshot as a work about fighting is like saying Fight Club is about boys beating each other up. I havent been this excited about a debut novel since Craig Davidsons, The Fighter. This gem of a book stays with you after you've finished reading it, something that unfortunately doesnt come around too often. The taut sharp prose is as economical as punches from a veteran fighter and its hard to believe at times that this is the first offering from a promising new writer.

Excellent debut worthy of its 5 stars.
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on 22 June 2009
I like reading novels by new writers and that is one of the reasons why I chose this one, also it is out my comfort zone which usually consists of thrillers and chick lit.
The book is well written and flows nicely and is in the main a detailed character study of Cal and Riley as well as the ever present Rivera.
The plot is simple, Cal is facing a rematch against the legendary Rivera, four years in the making. UP until the moment he steps into the ring he is confident he will be alright, after all he is the only man whom Rivera has failed to knock out. He realises as soon as he steps into the ring that Rivera means business.

I know nothing about the world of fighting but the way the preparations are described are convincing and compelling, the weigh in and buzz from journalists, the crowd filling the arena ratchet up the tension before the fight begins. As a reader you certainly begin to share in Cal's emotions and will him on, the fight itself is brutal and described in detail.

On the surface the novel may seem to be just a description of a fighter preparing for the most crucial fight of his career but look deeper and you will see that the fight is how Cal and Rivera and Riley judge their own success and failures, what it means to have to let go of your dreams and how things change as we grow older.

A great debut novel that I would recommend.
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on 7 June 2010
A few pages into the book this reader was reminded of John Huston's 1972 film "Fat City" starring Jeff Bridges as a lonely journeyman boxer without a manager, travelling by bus from fight to fight, living wherever the promoters decide to dump him.
This book's heroes are Cal, once an unbeatable, natural-born fighter and Riley, his manager for the past ten years. Cal engages in a mixed form of martial arts, whereby boxing, wrestling and the use of low and high kicks, and knees are allowed. Cal is portrayed as the best in this type of fighting until he lost four years ago on points from his two years-younger challenger Rivera, after three grueling rounds. Since then Rivera has knocked out every contender in a matter of seconds or minutes, netting 8-900.000 USD per fight. Since the points decision, Cal has lost on points from opponents he should have blown away. But he has never been knocked out.
The rematch with Rivera is scheduled in Tijuana, Mexico. Cal and Riley drive to the venue by car and are billeted together in a cheap room (USD 46 a night)in a shabby hotel and are advised to take their meals in the restaurant next door...
The authour never comments. Cal's and Riley's deep thoughts (often repeated) and their spoken words, always terse, push this curious and compelling book slowly forward. At three quarters into the book, readers still know little about Cal and Riley, except for some clues strewn around by the author. But by then they should really perk up and anticipate quantities of awesome drama... The best quarter of the book!
Ambition, rancour, doubt and fear are only a few of the feelings guiding the main protagonists in this debut novel written in the simple English fighters and their managers are expected to use. Deep book.
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"Rivera stepped up. He stepped up delicately, almost mincingly...He gave off violence. It was everything about him. The capacity for violence--that was all there was."

*Things needed (for this novel)
**Overview of the story
***Reflections on the book

*Things needed. I read this book for a couple of hours over the course of 5 nights. I read it slowly, but it's not one that needs that length of focus to "get it." A soft couch with a couple of bottles of cold beer and either a bag of chips or a bucket of wings is all that is necessary! It's a free flowing story whose characters are immediately engaging.

**The Longshot is the story of a prize-fighter's quest to regain the stature of a top-contender in the mixed-martial art field against the marauding champion whose very name evokes the fear of a young Mike Tyson in his peak. But in actuality, The Longshot is a relationship story about two men, Riley, the coach, who has grieved for so many years that he put his wunderkind-ingenue in a situation he was not prepared for. The story is also about Cal, a young man, not yet thirty, and whose early years were defined by his skills and success in the ring. Their lives, but more accurately, what they thought their lives meant was derailed when Cal first met Rivera.

The publishers characterize the style of writing to Steinbeck, Hemingway and Mailer. I agree only to the extent that you're carried through the story by the stream of thought that each man has about himself and the upcoming fight: the (initial) hopes, the fears, the concerns about what their lives are as compared to what they thought it meant when Cal was on top. Is this a pursuit to regain a measure of respect and stature? Is this to recapture the self-respect, the ovation afforded to contenders? Is it a way to define themselves against the four of disillusionment? At any moment, these are the sentiments that are spoken or contemplated by each man. Winning the title, as the story goes on, seems to be less of an incentive.

This is not terse fiction and unlike the allusion to the great literary figures of the past, first time novelist, Katie Kitamura, a freelance writer and film consultant, has on her hands a remarkable debut. The stream-of-thought technique that is applied here carries you through the corridors of fear each character has in ways that Hemingway and Steinbeck never achieved. You're actually connected to the Riley and Cal. You feel empathy and only rarely is there a breach of this consciousness. The story has the feel more of a 70's era build up to a boxing match than a turn of the century mixed martial arts fight. Riley's old car and the radio that he struggles with as he drives Cal down to Mexico in the days leading up to the fight reminds me of those old Chevy Impala's with a coat hanger stuck in the antenna slot of the hood. Breakfast in a dingy restaurant, unappetizing food, and bimbo waitresses are scenes right out a bad film. Even the larger-than-life champion, with his mafioso-style influence over the town and the media all seem like one-dimensional distractions from the immensely engaging interaction between a mentor and his student. This is a pursuit of the brass ring. Misguided dream, misdirected goal? Perhaps. But, they don't know that. How many of us do? Do they (we) live with the feeling that they should have done this or should have done that or do they seize the opportunity and live without regrets, regardless of the outcome? Were they misguided or misdirected, you might wonder. No. Even before the fight, the reader is convinced that whatever the outcome, Cal had to face Rivera, Riley had to support Cal. Neither would be able to go on with their lives if they hadn't.

***I remember the first time I saw a mixed-martial arts fight. (For those of you who're unfamiliar to this world, "mixed-martial arts" is an amalgamation of boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling --not professional wrestling, unfortunately-- and Far Eastern karate/ kung fu.) I was visiting my high school hometown of Uniondale (NY) during a springbreak and my best friend, Sean Moodie, put in a tape of big, burly wrestler- he had a strong resemblance to Abdullah, The Butcher and he seemed just as intimidating to look at from the safety of a video cassette. His opponent was a much smaller, almost one-third his size (no kidding, here) and about a foot to a foot and a half shorter. It was David and Goliath. The bell rang. This odd shaped ring gave me the creeps as these men lunged toward each other. No sooner did I say a silent prayer that this young, white guy wouldn't get "murdered" that he gave this behemoth a roundhouse kick to the mouth. All I noticed was a white-ish speck fly from the mouth of the bigger man. By the time the big man turned his face back toward the smaller man he was met with an onslaught of fists and kicks. In a split second, blood gushed from the place where his tooth (or teeth?) were. The smaller gladiator was now on top of the shoulders of his cornermen, paraded around the octogon like a returning army general.

Mixed martial arts is a brutal, brutish and blood-thirsty sport. It is no joke. You're spared of the gory moments in this novel.

If Amazon allowed us to give half stars, I'd actually give this fine novel four and a half stars. Well done, nonetheless.
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on 23 June 2011
This is a simple story about a fighter, Cal, and his trainer, Riley, preparing for a big fight, the fight of Cal's career. His opponent is unbeaten, but Cal thinks he has a good chance. The novel has received a lot of praise, including the quote by Tom McCarthy comparing the author to Hemingway. That's always a problem for me, building expectations too high. This is good, but not that good.

The story is all about the gradual build up, the tension, the relationship between the fighter and his trainer. It's told in sparse prose that works very well for the most part, except that occasionally the repetitive, short-sentence style is overdone. There's little variety in the writing.

I have no interest in fighting or the sporting world described in the novel, but I enjoyed reading about it. This is the strength of the novel, the way the author seems to understand how the men would feel. You don't have to like the sport to enjoy this book.
The weakness, for me, was that in parts the repetition becomes a little tedious. There's very little going on here, for a full-length novel. At times it feels a bit drawn out, like the author is running out of things to tell us. It feels more like a long short story than a short novel. Also the ending - after the build-up and the suspense, I found the ending a bit sudden, something of a let down.
This is a good, easy read, but don't expect too much. If you ignore the hype, you might not be disappointed.
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on 9 June 2009
The Longshot A wonderful debut novel - spare, beautifully written, absolutely convincing in the details. The action follows Cal and his trainer Riley as they prepare for a crucial fight in Mexico, a rematch with the legendary champion, Riviera. Cal has never been knocked out and he thinks he's in with a chance of winning this time. But when he finally comes face to face with his opponent all he can see is the capacity for pure violence, and the fear rushes in. The account of the last day and then the fight itself is utterly gripping. It's a small book, but its scope is vast. Ostensibly it's about a boxing match but as you read you realise it's about much more than that - success and failure, getting older, mental strength, life itself. Highly recommended. A writer to watch.
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