We Begin Our Ascent dances between tragic and comic, exploring the cost of ambition and the question of what gives our lives meaning. Reed melds the themes of great marital dramas like Revolutionary Road. Throughout, readers are drawn inside the cycling world and treated to sports-writing.
It’s one of the indices of Reed’s talent that you hotly flip this book’s pages even when there’s not a lot going on, when it’s just another hilly day on the tour ... Without pressing too hard, this novel proposes the peloton as a metaphor for marriage ... This novel derives its power from its limited focus and direct language. There are no adipose, word-glutted sentences. Reed is mostly content to give us strong silk thread, absent pearls ... Like a racer, Reed carefully husbands his resources in this ruthless little sports novel ... Reed cuts out distractions as if they were cancer.
Ascent starts slowly, and Reed’s restrained, almost ascetic prose... takes a little bit of work to get into ... Reed does an admirable job of assuming the perspective of a pro cyclist ... Reed also demonstrates piercing clarity about the sport’s larger truths ... Reed is equally adept in simpler character examinations ... Once it gets going, We Begin Our Ascent is a quick and enjoyable read, perfect for a summer weekend before the Tour. Reed’s pacing is expert, slowly drawing you in and then driving you ever faster to the crux of the story and its quick, quiet denouement. And Reed’s powers of perception and turns of phrase provide small delights throughout. Ascent is not a perfectly faithful rendering of every last bit of pro-cycling minutiae, but that is not its main draw. That is Reed’s voice, which even in this debut novel is already strong and will continue to rise to the top.
With glowing blurbs from George Saunders and Mary Karr, I couldn’t wait to dive into this debut, although the central event of the story—the Tour de France—is not something that has previously sparked my interest. Consider that indifference over. From page one, Joe Mungo Reed will make you a cycling convert with his ability to convey the often quiet beauty, struggle, and competition of the sport... [Ascent] will keep you turning the pages.