Review: Headshot, a debut novel, explores the psyches of young lady boxers.  

Rita Bullwinkel recognizes the body's misuse potential. The collegiate water polo player told The Paris Review about the abuse her body underwent for a sport few care about. All my fingers and nose are fractured. At 16, a full-force kick to the stomach had me puke for two days.

Bullwinkel brings her personal understanding of bodies in competition to her debut novel, “Headshot,” set in Reno, Nevada, over two scorching July days as eight young girls compete for the Daughters of America Cup at Bob's Boxing Palace, a rundown gym.

Andi is haunted by memories of a 4-year-old boy who drowned in a pool while she was a lifeguard. Artemis, whose older sisters were boxers, worried about not living up to the family legacy.

Bullwinkel also shows “head shots” of the other girls' strange interests and nightmares. Andi wants to kiss a boy lifeguard while thinking about the child's corpse. First, Artemis hates Andi, “this sorry zit-ridden girl,” then she wants to be friends.

Bullwinkel writes with rhythm and muscle, describing ferocious face and body attacks like “Andi's nose feeling like cornflakes” as Artemis's glove hits her eyeballs.

Her style is risky. The omniscient narrator imagines the girls' futures beyond the tournament's 48 hours. Clear-eyed, uncaring. Due to several finger breaks, Artemis will be unable to carry a cup of tea at 60. The injury will not be a war relic, but a debilitating impairment.

“Belly Up,” a collection of short stories with horrific, surreal story twists, made Bullwinkel a literary star in 2018. Reviewed as full of “squirmy pleasures.” Her new work features dark scenarios and hard-to-read characters. 

 Yet it feels meaningful because she gives agency to a group of girls who might not otherwise be recognized and portrays them in their youth, seeking for recognition and glory.

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