cover image Stephen Florida

Stephen Florida

Gabe Habash. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $25 (304p) ISBN 978-1-56689-464-7

PW reviews editor Habash’s finely rendered, dark, and funny debut novel follows Steven Forster (known as Stephen Florida, due to an enduring clerical error) as he wrestles for Oregsburg College in Aiken, North Dakota. A senior, it’s his last season to win the championship, a goal on which he’s obsessively staked everything. But his turbulent friendship with a talented younger teammate, his budding romance with an aspiring gallery director, his lingering grief over his parents’ death, a hostile coach, and a possibly homicidal professor all threaten to distract and derail him. He must also face his demons: a lack of direction, a deep intolerance for boredom, a reckless despair that verges into suicidal ideation, and a loneliness so vast it becomes a potent feature of the dramatic landscape. The student-athlete’s world comes alive with crisp, unflinching prose: “Suicide sprints, jump rope, rope climbing, five times, arms only... I brush the vomit out of my teeth and get my backpack.” Habash also balances his protagonist’s most harrowing episodes and questionable behavior with genuine humor. There are riffs on everything from death to jazz to God to liberal arts degrees. A striking, original, and coarsely poetic portrayal of a young man’s athletic and emotional quest. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (June)