Foxcatcher meets The Art of Fielding, 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.
Gabe Habash is the fiction reviews editor for Publishers Weekly. He holds an MFA from New York University and lives in New York.
“…Habash writes about the raw physicality of wrestling better than anybody this side of John Irving… A lively, occasionally harrowing journey into obsession.” —Kirkus
“A striking, original, and coarsely poetic portrayal of a young man’s athletic and emotional quest.”—Publishers Weekly, *boxed and starred review*
“An early candidate for BEST COVER OF THE YEAR AND MAYBE ALL TIME, Gabe Habash’s debut novel of love, obsession, and wrestling is yet another compelling reason to avoid college sports.” —Literary Hub
“I’m pinned to the mat by this one.”—The Quivering Pen
“In this novel, wrestling is really a pretext to introduce us to a powerful and engrossing new consciousness—Stephen’s struggle is to come to grips with the grinding willfulness that both enables and hobbles everything he does. Plus, Habash’s prose is dryly hilarious.”—Publishers Weekly
“Habash’s debut is a memorable portrait of obsession to the edge of madness and the loneliness that follows so single-minded a pursuit. Yet readers will gladly accompany the complex, thoughtful, not-always-likable Stephen through the season as he battles his own dark fears as much as any opponent.”—Library Journal, *starred review*
“As a character study, Stephen’s is convincingly, comically, realistically weird, his seeming every thought marvelously relayed. This, plus beautiful sentences and an evocative North Dakota setting in the not-so-distant past, mark a promising debut.”—Booklist
“Everyone needs to read this immediately because I’m dying to talk about it, which is something I never thought I would say about a book with this much wrestling in it.”—Catapult Community
“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 is an unforgettable addition to the canon of great literary eccentrics. At once a chronicle of obsession, a philosophical treatise, and a deeply affecting love story, this singular novel is perhaps most profoundly an anatomy of American loneliness. Gabe Habash is a writer of powerful gifts, and this is a wonderful book.” —Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
“Habash has created something bizarre, comic, and truly engrossing in Stephen Florida. Florida’s first-person interiority, painted in masterful, jagged brushstrokes of insight and narrow-mindedness, gains in understanding, and selfish short-sightedness, does a remarkable job of mirroring the thought patterns of young males while creating the most gripping eccentric protagonist since Confederacy of Dunces. Through Florida’s unique lens, Habash provides a fascinating, fresh look at estrangement, competition, isolation, the American Midwest and West, and devotion to a cause. I already can’t stop talking about this one!”—Annie Harvieux, Magers & Quinn
“In Gabe Habash’s hands, Stephen Florida is utterly engrossing. The compelling voice of this book drew me in right away, and it wasn’t long before this character was a real person to me, and someone who I found myself loving and rooting for.”—Dan Chaon, author of Ill Will
“In the middle of Stephen Florida, the narrator’s love interest, his art class crush, says of their college, ‘I didn’t learn anything I didn’t want to learn. It was a reality I wasn’t surprised by. When I met you I felt like someone was trying to make it up to me.’ Reader, that’s how I felt after finishing Stephen Florida. Years of reading ho-hum, predictable fiction were all at once cancelled out by the many thrills and occasional chills of Stephen Florida’s kinetic, irresistibly strange voice. Habash’s novel zeroes in on the forces that act on obsessive, competitive, and disturbed persons. Or person: Stephen Florida, a name for the ages. Habash seems deeply concerned with the thinning borderline between innocence and experience. His narrator attempts for almost three hundred pages to figure out, and sometimes exceed, the limitations of his mind and body. Lucky is the reader who gets to spend time parsing Florida’s only seemingly limited intellect and seeing/feeling his skills and abilities in the wrestling ring. I couldn’t look away, even when Habash lowered the lights and sent his reader to the ledge of an abyss. Pick up his book, read its first lines, and be glad to follow him there.”—John Francisconi, Bank Square Books
“Not since The Art of Fielding have I read a sports novel this captivating. Stephen Florida is about a wrestler’s quest for glory. Stephen, a senior at Oregsburg College, has his mind set on winning nationals at 133 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Each practice and match brings him closer to his goal, and delivers him further from his sanity. This novel shows how compulsively people pursue greatness, and the anguish felt at each shortcoming. Stephen Florida, in short, is a novel of a man slowly losing his mind in pursuit of greatness.”—Hunter Gillum