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Headshot: A Novel By Rita Bullwinkel Cover Image

Headshot: A Novel (Hardcover)

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March 2024 Indie Next List

Headshot is completely brilliant. A fierce and intimate account of eight fascinating young women with powerful, refined prose. Rita Bullwinkel puts you inside the minds of her characters while enthralling you as the story plays out.”
— Shane Grebel, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, KS


Named a Best Book of 2024 So Far by The New York Times Book Review, NPR and Vulture

“Make room, American fiction, for a meaningful new voice.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review

“As blazing and distinctive a performance as I’ve beheld in a long while . . . I’m amazed.” —Jonathan Lethem, author of Brooklyn Crime Novel and Motherless Brooklyn

An electrifying debut novel from an “unusually gifted writer” (Lorrie Moore) about the radical intimacy of physical competition

An unexpected tragedy at a community pool. A family’s unrelenting expectation of victory. The desire to gain or lose control; to make time speed up or stop; to be frighteningly, undeniably good at something. Each of the eight teenage girl boxers in this blistering debut novel has her own reasons for the sacrifices she has made to come to Reno, Nevada, to compete to be named the best in the country. Through a series of face-offs that are raw, ecstatic, and punctuated by flashes of humor and tenderness, prizewinning writer Rita Bullwinkel animates the competitors’ pasts and futures as they summon the emotion, imagination, and force of will required to win.

Frenetic, surprising, and strikingly original, Headshot is a portrait of the desire, envy, perfectionism, madness, and sheer physical pleasure that motivate young women to fight—even, and perhaps especially, when no one else is watching.

About the Author

Rita Bullwinkel is the author of Belly Up, a story collection that won the Believer Book Award. The recipient of a 2022 Whiting Award, she has had her work published in Tin House, Conjunctions, BOMB Magazine, NOON, and Guernica. She is editor at large for McSweeney’s, the deputy editor of The Believer, and a contributing editor at NOON. She lives in San Francisco and teaches at the California College of the Arts and the University of San Francisco.

Praise For…

Praise for Headshot:

“Make room, American fiction, for a meaningful new voice. . . . Whatever [Bullwinkel] turns her attention to glows under her scrutiny. . . . This is kinetic writing, but it would mean little without this novel’s undertow of human feeling and the rapt attention it pays to life’s bottom dogs, young women who are short on sophistication but long on motivation. . . . [Headshot is] fresh and strong and sinuous . . . so enveloping to read that you feel, at times, that you are writing it in your own mind. It contains no bogus psychologizing. Its wide-awake characters put me in mind of the singer Ian Dury’s immortal comment: ‘I’m not here to be remembered, I’m here to be alive.’” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review

“A brilliant sports novel.” —The Atlantic

“Movement between graceful meditation and descriptions of fighting allows for both a dignified and a critical treatment of boxing. . . . Ideas are made particular with metaphor and strange details, which expand time poetically in each scene. . . . Eight two-minute rounds can contain a lot, it turns out.” —The Washington Post

“Bullwinkel’s debut novel is as tense and disciplined as its characters, and she has a gift for capturing the way their minds wander far from the ring and back again. . . . There’s a mesmerizing sense of limitlessness to the narrative, which roams far into the future of these fighters even as they’re absorbing hits in the ring.” Vulture, “The Best Books of 2024 (So Far)”

Headshot delivers the goods . . . [it] uses the form of the sports novel to explore larger issues, reflecting on the ways that lives are consciously and unconsciously lived . . . Bullwinkel wields this omniscience fluidly, employing such bold techniques as the Muriel Spark–style flash-forward, leaping years into the future to inform the reader what will happen to each girl . . . Headshot asks us to look at both a specific instance in a group of lives and the entirety of those lives.” Esquire

“With language that floats like a butterfly and revelations that sting like a bee, Bullwinkel takes the gloves off teenage girlhood, leaving it splayed out in all its wonder, humor, violence, and glory.” Oprah Daily

Headshot is a knockout. . . . In her short, hard-punching novel, Rita Bullwinkel manages to capture the girls and scenes and phrases from childhood into the ring, then out into that bigger ring called life.” —NPR

Headshot is a real one-two punch of a novel . . .  Bullwinkel’s dynamic writing — moving back and forth in time, in and out of the boxing gym — and short, punchy sentences are a perfect mirror of the girls’ jabs in the ring. It’s a knockout.” Samantha Balaban, producer of NPR's Weekend Edition

Headshot is like a fighter with excellent footwork—it has a sturdy base yet moves quickly. [Bullwinkel’s] prose, meanwhile, is aptly crisp and, at times, beguilingly strange. Together, these ingredients yield a brilliant, unpredictable book, one that carefully explores its characters’ real-world yearnings while finding fresh ways to consider the central mystery of human consciousness. . . . A dazzlingly unusual piece of writing . . . Headshot [is] the stuff of champions.” —Kevin Canfield, San Francisco Chronicle

“What a pleasure it is to find a novel that’s unlike anything else out there, that succeeds on its own idiosyncratic terms and leaves the reader’s head ringing. . . . Headshot feels like the complete deal in a way we rarely see in debut fiction: efficient, forceful, just messy enough to be interesting, and leaving space in the ring for the reader.” The Guardian

“Bullwinkel makes surprising and shrewd connections between the world of this one tournament and the other hidden worlds that girls build in plain sight. . . . A fearless and faithful rendering of what it’s like to inhabit the secret world of girls—the disorientation, the violence, the delusions of grandeur, the simultaneous intimacy with and alienation from one another—through the eyes of eight competitors at the very edge of girlhood, playing the last hand-clapping game of their lives.” The Brooklyn Rail

“Exciting . . . Bullwinkel . . . comes up with one brilliant descriptive phrase after another.” Star Tribune

“Bullwinkel’s rhythmic, muscular prose matches the visceral, sometimes stomach-churning material. . . . Stylistically, she takes risks. . . . She gives agency to a group of girls who might not otherwise be seen and shows them to us in the full flush of youth, striving for recognition and glory.” —Associated Press

“[Headshot’s] visceral, skillful prose grips from first to last.” The Telegraph

“Headshot is completely brilliant. A fierce and intimate account of eight fascinating young women with powerful, refined prose. Rita Bullwinkel puts you inside the minds of her characters while enthralling you as the story plays out.” —March 2024 Indie Next List

“Bullwinkel’s 2018 short story collection Belly Up wasn’t afraid of bewildering its readers. Her first novel is even more brazen, testing the boundaries of what a novel can even be while refusing to hold back a single, brutal punch. . . . The time line spans just the two days . . . but the story itself is cavernous, spreading across time and space, expanding into profound experiences of love, grief, girlhood, and ambition, and how these experiences interplay with the power and catharsis of physical pain. It’s awe-inspiring and incomparable.” Bustle

“Bullwinkel tosses aside the typical beats of a girlhood narrative in favor of a taut and visceral look at what drives girls to fight. . . . [She] delivers a coming-of-age narrative unlike any other I’ve ever read, one that uses the boxing match as a moment of distillation that reminds us of how labile and fleeting girlhood really is.” The Baffler

“Exhilarating.” Literary Hub

“Contained entirely within matches, Bullwinkel’s prose ricochets from achingly close to grand and sweeping. . . . Headshot holds all these tensions taut for a couple hundred pages, breathlessly, like the seconds before a punch connects.” Cultured

“[Headshot] animates the fantasies and realities of both competitive sport and adolescence in swift, muscular prose.” Electric Literature

“[Bullwinkel] describes how watching a bout, the way it’s lit, feels theatrical, similar to watching a monologue in a play. Her virtuosic and soulful novel, Headshot, offers readers a similar sort of focus, through the lens of a muscular, omniscient voice.” ―Anita Felicelli, Alta

“It’s not often you finish a book and think, ‘Wow, that was a completely unique reading experience.’ But Headshot is that novel—one of a kind in subject matter, character, structure, and prose. An absolute knockout.” KMUW Wichita 89.1

“The classic momentum of a sports narrative unfurls in unusually lyric and muscular language: a ferocious novel . . . unusual and striking . . . Each match unfolds both in the physicality of the dusty ring and in the consciousnesses of the fighters, their coaches, parents, and other spectators in the tiny audience. There’s not a single line of dialogue in the book, but rather a hypnotically intense, God’s-eye narrative voice. . . . For each young woman, Bullwinkel also conjures a life ahead, and these brilliantly imagined future selves add to the richness of the characterizations.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[A] smashing debut novel . . . For all the toe-to-toe realism and visceral descriptions of the girls’ blood sport, Bullwinkel’s real interest is in their inner lives and the picture that forms when considered as a whole. . . . The fragile lives of her weekend warriors are faithfully portrayed in prose that is intelligible but never commonplace, virtuosic yet grounded. Bullwinkel’s knockout performance mops the floor with rank pretenders.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Bullwinkel’s dingy, fishbowl-like, time-forgotten setting puts readers ringside. . . . This is a special little world for girls and by girls . . . that Bullwinkel draws with grit and grace.” Booklist

“Sensational . . . Bullwinkel lit the scene on fire with her debut story collection Belly Up and returns with a first novel that is a stone-cold stunner.” Debutiful

“[Bullwinkel’s] prose is direct, deft, and tough, but not without grace and emotion. . . . Bullwinkel renders the intricacies of adolescent girlhood in such a way that cannot fail to give readers sharp jolts of recognition.” AnOther Magazine

“[2023] gave us Barbie, girl math, Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, girl dinners, and the coquette aesthetic—joyous rebuttals to the experiences of growing up too fast. . . . But beneath the pink bows and performed delicateness lies an understated element of girlhood: how gritty and brutal coming-of-age can be, full of physicality, power, and a striking competitiveness. Rita Bullwinkel’s debut novel, Headshot . . . understands this perfectly. . . . Bullwinkel has written a book that captures the brunt of teenage girlhood.” —Jessica Blough, Alta

“A debut novel that plays with form and structure with a nimble effectiveness.” The List

“Rita Bullwinkel’s novel about teen girl boxers packs a punch. . . . [It’s] a dynamic ode to girlhood and its insatiable stamina.”

Headshot is an extraordinary act of literary telepathy. With prose as muscular and gleaming as a body in motion, Bullwinkel drops readers into that roaring, incandescent universe that is young womanhood. This is a book with its own pulse.” ―C Pam Zhang, author of Land of Milk and Honey and How Much of These Hills Is Gold

“As blazing and distinctive a performance as I’ve beheld in a long while. Bullwinkel’s figurative language is tethered at one end to the distant galaxies, at the other to the cellular structure of her young fighters’ bodies. Whole lives are strung between. I’m amazed.” ―Jonathan Lethem, author of Brooklyn Crime Novel and Motherless Brooklyn

Headshot is just that―a shot to the head, a cumulative wallop to the senses. Bullwinkel’s prose jabs, spars, feints, floats, stings, and slowly floods us with the force of the fact: time and will can make the dust of an ordinary life sparkle.” ―Namwali Serpell, author of The Furrows

“The genius that is Rita Bullwinkel has finally handed us this brilliant, perfect novel, and it is everything you hoped for; it is as devastating and inventive and philosophical and playful as you could imagine. I dreamed of it for days after I finished it. I dreamed of those girls’ punches and their swirling minds.” ―Deb Olin Unferth, author of Barn 8

Headshot is a knockout, a novel as fierce and vibrant as its girl boxers. I’ve never read a book like this, that captures girlhood and life itself in the fleeting moments that make us.” ―Rachel Khong, author of Real Americans and Goodbye, Vitamin

Headshot is a kinetic, suspenseful portrait of eight girl boxers locked in ferocious competition for the Daughters of America Cup. In the steaming depths of Bob’s Boxing Palace, these fighters must face each other and the wild thunder of their own inner worlds. Rita Bullwinkel is brilliant on the physical collision, at once strategic and feral, that is a boxing match, and the private hopes and agonies that compel fighters to step through the ropes.” ―Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel

“A luminously unsentimental, tour-de-force exploration of competition and its consequences―which is to say, of the America we all live in. Headshot is literature at its vital, primal best.” ―John Wray, author of Gone to the Wolves

“Rita Bullwinkel’s Headshot is a powerfully compelling and evocative look at the lives of girl boxers, told in a style of beauty and concision. I loved it.” ―Brandon Hobson, author of The Removed

“A true portrait of life as a young girl boxer. The accuracy with which Bullwinkel depicts thinking while competing in a boxing match is excellent.” ―Ginny Fuchs, American Olympic boxer and four-time national champion

“Brilliant Bullwinkel brings us inside the bodies of the best girl boxers in America. Here, in the head of a fighter, pasts and futures explode from fists to insist on the present. What is it to stand in opposition to another? What troubles and thoughts power each punch? Bullwinkel, like the finest of fighters, wields grace and vision, a most powerful hit.” ―Samantha Hunt, author of The Dark Dark

Product Details
ISBN: 9780593654101
ISBN-10: 0593654102
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: March 12th, 2024
Pages: 224
Language: English