Knock-out punch

A review of ‘Contenders,’ by Erika Krouse.

 

Each chapter of Colorado writer Erika Krouse’s sharp, fresh debut novel of love, street fighting and deep-rooted disaffection begins with a brief parable from martial arts lore or Asian folk traditions. In one, a squirrel tells a bird that he knows 15 ways to escape a fox. The bird, however, knows only one way: He flies. When a fox appears, “The fox’s jaws closed on the squirrel as it was trying to decide which of the 15 things it should do. The bird had already flown away.”


Krouse’s protagonist, Nina Black, is a woman who knows one thing, and that is fighting. As a teenager in Grand Junction, Colorado, she escaped an abusive father when she began to get serious training in martial arts from a gifted Vietnam veteran.


Now in her late 20s, having left her family with no forwarding address, Nina leads an isolated existence in a rundown apartment off Colfax in Denver, earning a precarious living by going to bars, approaching men she suspects are cads, and then, when they make a move on her, beating them up and stealing their wallets. “Nina thought of herself as a kind of pool shark,” Krouse writes, “except she didn’t play pool. … She was an enforcement officer, collecting small fines from men who violated the social contract.”


Nina’s secret collection of purloined wallets is nearing a hundred when she beats up a steroid-fueled man named Cage –– a crooked cop who was once a mixed martial arts champion. She ends up not only with his money, but also with his badge, and he responds by beginning to pursue her in a seriously menacing way. All this happens just as her childhood crush, Isaac, turns up in Denver with the 8-year-old orphaned niece Nina never knew she had, the daughter of her dead twin brother.


Isaac is a successful actor in commercials who is as well-meaning as Nina is dangerous and as responsible as she is unreliable. Still, love begins to grow between the three members of this off-kilter family, just as Cage threatens to destroy Nina for good.


With its tough one-woman-fighting-machine protagonist and its radical upheaval of expected gender roles, Contenders veers far from standard patterns and continually surprises the reader. Krouse’s wit, erudition and precise language make Contenders a pleasure to read even when it achieves K.O. stark darkness before — finally — lifting its head toward the light.

Contenders
Erika Krouse
328 pages 
softcover: $15.95.
Rare Bird, 2015.

High Country News Classifieds
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • WYOMING CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    We are hiring a Wyoming Conservation Associate Full time, competitive pay and benefits. Location: Cody, WY (preferred), Jackson, WY, or Lander, WY Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for...
  • SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the nations leading national park advocacy organization, seeks a Regional Director to lead and manage staff for the Southwest Regional...
  • DIRECTOR OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
    This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • PROGRAM OFFICER, INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES, NOVO FOUNDATION
    The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • ARMY OF THE DOG
    A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • ANNIE CLARK TANNER FELLOWSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • IDAHO RIVERFRONT:
    2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS IS EXPANDING - THREE JOB OPENINGS
    Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • SUNNYSIDE MARKET SEEKS NEW PROPRIETOR
    Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • NO INDIVIDUAL HEROES: OURAY MOUNTAIN RESCUE TEAM
    Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM MANAGER - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE, SOUTHERN CA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • THE BOOK OF BARLEY -
    Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • TEMPORARY ASSISTANT EDITOR
    Are you a climber and a writer who is passionate about mountain literature? Do you love searching through old alpine journals for stories of esoteric...
  • RIVER TRIP LEADER & EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...