Sometimes an epigraph offers you a serving of Plato, some Ecclesiastes, or perhaps a few fine lines from an obscure Eastern European poet. To welcome readers into Stephen Florida, his first novel, Gabe Habash has picked these five words from Arnold Schwarzenegger: “The mind is the limit.” Sitting alone on a page, floating in negative space, they feel like a frightening prophecy.
Stephen Florida follows a college wrestler in his senior season. It is written as if the ghost of Laurence Sterne watched a lot of ESPN before returning to his desk. Stephen’s voice draws momentum from his attempts to leave a mark on the world. Like the voice in Tristram Shandy, it obsessively digresses from that central aim into ideas of human failure and misreading. We learn that even his name has its foundation in a mistake: Stephen Florida was supposed to be called Steven Forster. An unfortunate clerical error occurred.
Habash has a great eye for the ways in which our public identities and private insecurities are shaped by happenstance. Stephen Florida is full of vim and invention, good jokes and built-up bodies, unexpected sentences. He and I discussed his love of Barry Hannah and Roberto Bolaño, the common pitfalls of books about sport, and how frustrations with writing may have fed into his narrator’s preoccupation with completion.
What was it that drew you to write about wrestling in Stephen Florida, and held your interest? Are you a sports obsessive?
I really only love basketball. LeBron James is the greatest human being on the planet. But what drew me to wrestling was how demanding and unforgiving it is. It seems to exist in an adjacent world that not even other sports inhabit. Like other sports, wrestling can give you so much, but it seems to take more, to ask more of its participants. It was necessary for Stephen’s pursuit of a championship to exist in the periphery. He’s in the lowest division of college wrestling at a school in the middle of nowhere. I wanted readers to feel like they were watching something happen that no one else was paying attention to. Read More