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.
...[a] powerhouse debut ... one of the most unforgettable characters in recent American fiction ... It's hard to pull off a novel with an unreliable narrator, and they don't come much more unreliable than Stephen. But Habash manages to make his protagonist both charismatic and repelling, frequently on the same page, and the result is one of the most fascinating characters to come along in quite a while ... In the end, it's difficult not to root for Stephen, despite his impulsiveness and stubborn single-mindedness. And it's almost impossible not to admire Habash's starkly beautiful and moving novel. Stephen Florida is brash and audacious; it's not just one of the best novels of the year, it's one of the best sports books to come along in quite a while.
...[a] gripping debut novel ... Habash deftly unpacks the recurring anxieties of millennial masculinity. Stephen’s physical grappling becomes an exquisite and complicated metaphor for the emotional and existential struggle of so many young North American men ... Much of the novel’s tension lies in grim uncertainties and Habash is gifted in his ability to imbue even the most mundane scene with nuance and muted suspense ... Despite its contemporary sensibility, the cryptic absence of technology — no smart phones, computers, social media, or texting — imbues the tale with a noirish, Twin Peaks feel ... A spellbinding coming-of-age novel, Stephen Florida is not the kind of book content with clean plot lines or loose ends tied up neatly. Instead, it’s a deeply satisfying peek into the mind and heart of a troubled young man trying desperately to rein in the chaotic and multiplying forces of a world he cannot control.
Habash questions not only the true cost of achieving athletic greatness, but also how masculinity—defined in part by vengefulness, violence, and stoicism—can drive men to behave in self-glorifying and self-defeating ways ... It reads a bit like Chad Harbach’s coming-of-age story The Art of Fielding invaded by the characters from Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives, a novel obsessed with the absurd nature of manhood. But unlike Bolaño’s novel, Stephen Florida refuses to romanticize its male characters and their exploits, instead exposing the emptiness of their hunger for recognition ... Impressively, Habash traces Stephen’s increasing derangement without resorting to clichés. The novel is both funny and authentically creepy, and even as his mental health and relationships deteriorate, Stephen remains consistently surprising, accessible, and engaging. Stephen Florida’s grim portrait of ambition led astray captures how competitiveness and masculinity can unravel those who blindly follow its codes. In Habash’s world, to man up is to break down. The growing number of stories about real-life athletes suffering similar crises has made that idea especially—and regrettably—timely.