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Reviews of Headshot by Rita Bullwinkel


A Novel

by Rita Bullwinkel

Headshot by Rita Bullwinkel X
Headshot by Rita Bullwinkel
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Mar 2024, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Book Summary

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 motivates young women to fight—even, and perhaps especially, when no one else is watching.

Rose Mueller vs. Tanya Maw

In girls' hand-clapping games there are no winners. You may be chided for missing a beat, or for forgetting one of the lyrics, but there is no victory that lies ahead for just one of the participants. Hand-clapping games exist only in a state of play, or a state of rest. However, they are not free of competitiveness. There is a pressure exerted by young girls upon one another to continue to clap, to chant the tongue-tied lewd nursery rhymes for as long as possible. This competitiveness lies in the clapping pair's desire for maximum endurance. The lyrics of girls' hand-clapping games are endless. Their choruses always circle back on themselves so that the game is played on loop, begun again by the same lyric that signals the game's end.

* * *

As the referees begin this fourth bout, the last bout of the day, in this darkened warehouse where only nine onlookers remain, there is the implication of a loop, or the suggestion of a repetition, a circular groove ...

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BookBrowse Review


Set amid the glow of the fluorescent lights of Bob's Boxing Palace (a converted warehouse) in Reno, Nevada, Headshot recounts the drama that is the 12th Annual Daughters of America Cup, pitting eight of the country's best 18 and under girl boxers against one another over two days in July. The novel is structured like a tournament—in a series of bouts between rival boxers, beginning with the semifinals and culminating with the ultimate match. Bullwinkel is an accomplished writer of short fiction, and each of these bouts reads much like a short story, one in which characters' past and future selves revolve around the turning point of the present moment, where the only thing that exists is the body and its physical, violent relationship to another body. The narration, which unfolds without a single line of dialogue, also vividly demonstrates the relationship between mind and body, as each character's lived experience swirls around these bloody battles in the ring...continued

Full Review Members Only (602 words)

(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Media Reviews

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.

Wickedly sharp and original, Rita Bullwinkel's striking debut upends the genre in this portrait of eight teenage girl boxers.

Dwight Garner, New York Times Book Review
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.'

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.

Another Magazine
[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.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The classic momentum of a sports narrative unfurls in unusually lyric and muscular language: a ferocious novel ... unusual and striking ...There's not a single line of dialogue in the book, but rather a hypnotically intense, God's-eye narrative voice.

Publishers Weekly (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.

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.

Author Blurb C Pam Zhang, author of Land of Milk and Honey and How Much of These Hills Is Gold
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.

Author Blurb Deb Olin Unferth, author of Barn 8
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.

Author Blurb Jonathan Lethem, author of Brooklyn Crime Novel and Motherless Brooklyn
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.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Notable Female Boxers

Black-and-white cartoon illustration of two women in dresses boxing as men wearing bowler hats look on in background, 1894 Rita Bullwinkel's novel Headshot depicts the intensity and intimacy of a girl's boxing tournament. Although women's boxing was only officially introduced to the Olympics in 2012 and was banned by the USA Boxing organization before 1993, accounts of women boxing date back to the 1700s. Here are just a few of the trailblazing women boxers throughout the history of the sport.

Nell Saunders and Rose Harland

These two competed in the first known women's bout in the United States, taking place in New York City in 1876. The prize? A silver butter dish.

Cathy ("Cat") Davis

Davis, born in 1952, was the first woman to be featured on the cover of the boxing magazine Ring, in 1978. She also, along with fellow boxers Marian Trimiar and ...

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