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
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • COLORADO PROGRAM MANAGER
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the leading non-profit conservation organization protecting Americas national parks, seeks a Program Manager for its Colorado Field Office located in...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: