Kerry Howley spent a year with two professional MMA fighters: One up-and-comer and one who was perhaps less in decline than simply locked in a particular state. I picked this up expecting something a little more journalistic and got something decidedly more strange; starting with the idea that the narrator isn’t Kerry Howley, it’s someone named Kit:
“Now those who ask that I be as real as Sean have a curious faith in the ability of people with birth certificates and tax IDs to free themselves from the fetters of deception. My (admittedly neurotic) progenitor, on the other hand, is so conscious of her own tendency toward self-confabulation that she hesitates to call anything she says of herself a fact. She has never known a real person who saw herself with even passable clarity; never known a storyteller who could tell of a trip to the supermarket without self-gratifying sins of omission. All narrators, I say, are fiction. All. The reliable ones have the decency to admit it.”
There are occasional flashes of insight into the sport itself:
Eventually the novice will learn that jiu-jitsu is in part the search for vulnerable angles; after expertly isolating an arm from the body, a black-belt will bend the elbow backward, or if it’s a leg he has in his clutches, the knee. The neck is another vulnerability, all jiu-jitsu artists being amateur anatomists who will, with doctorly precision, pinpoint your carotid artery and proceed to press upon it.
… but her real project is pursuit of an ecstatic state attained by watching the fights:
I knew not what the fight would do to me, how far it would throw me off the course of the healthy-minded, whether I would ever be able to return to life among them. I did not care. I pictured 50,000 Brazilians pressed into the stadium beside me, 100,000 eyes flickering, black cameras on tracks receding. I imagined all of us together reduced to the ocular root, simply receiving with the mute innocence of porcelain dolls sloppily collected, until something spilled over and we were together ripped from time.
You don’t need to care about or like MMA to enjoy this book, even if it is sort of fun to read about the occasional fighter from that particular era (ca. 2010-2012). Recommended.
Thrown by Kerry Howley 📚