An "Outstanding Mixed-Martial-Arts-Female-Comedy-Philosophy Novel,"
published by Rare Bird Books
Finalist for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award
“Nina was a thief, technically, although she never defined herself that way. Stealing was sponsorship. Fighting was the passion.”
Street-fighter Nina Black lives by her fists in Denver, stealing wallets and taking advantage of men who try to take advantage of her. This symbiosis is upended when one of her marks, a cop and MMA comeback contender, wants his wallet—and his dignity—back.
Avoiding retribution is difficult enough alone, but it becomes impossible once Nina gets unexpected custody of an orphaned eight-year- old niece she didn’t know existed, accompanied by her long-lost (and ever-vigilant) childhood flame, Isaac. When the situation implodes, only one person can help Nina earn back her life, and prepare her for the fight that might end it.
Available at your local independent and online bookstores on March 17th, 2015.
Published by Rare Bird Books.
Advance praise for Contenders:
"Here's a book with a real fighting heart, and also a real loving heart, and you don't often see those two things together. Pick up Contenders and give it a read."
—Madison Smartt Bell, PEN/Faulkner Award winner and National Book Award finalist for All Souls' Rising
"Erika Krouse is a unique and fearless writer, I love her work, and I highly recommend you read her newest kick-ass novel, Contenders."
—Bob Shacochis, Pulitzer finalist for The Woman Who Lost Her Soul
"In Contenders Erika Krouse has written a novel as hard paced and surprising as her heroine, the inimitable Nina Black who can beat almost any man in an unfair fight. But Contenders isn't only about street fighting. It's also about the spiritual life and the life of the affections, within and beyond family. Can Nina come back from the edge of darkness? I couldn't stop turning these brilliant pages to find the answer."
—Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy
"Reading Contenders is like watching a fire. You see the flames, but it is the glowing embers that fascinate. The dialogue, the descriptions of action, everything crackles and pops in this novel. This is a beautiful, physical piece of work."
—Percival Everett, author of I Am Not Sidney Poitier
"This book is like watching Lorrie Moore's humor in a glorious street brawl with Ernest Hemingway's bullfighters. Full of heart, spirit, and delightful characters, Contenders hits you hard and leaves a mark you'll remember for a very long time."
—Nick Arvin, author of The Reconstructionist and Articles of War
"Contenders is a knockout! I've never read anything like it. The marvelous Erika Krouse has crafted one of the most unforgettable heroines in modern fiction. Nina Black is not the kind of woman you'd want to meet in a dark alley. But she's precisely the kind of character I always hope to encounter in fiction: a badass streetfighter forced by fate to confront her capacity for maternal tenderness, her need for love, and the anguished contents of her heart."
—Steve Almond, author of Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto
"Erika Krouse's Contenders is a serious contender for my favorite novel of the year -- in fact, my favorite novel in a long time. By turns hilarious, exciting, tough as rusty nails, and blazingly heartfelt, it's a knockout on every level."
—David Wroblewski, author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
"Erika Krouse’s moving novel Contenders gives us a lowdown depiction of Denver, Colorado, reminiscent of the Knoxville, Tennessee of Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree. And if you know Suttree (or McCarthy!), you know that that’s no mean feat. What’s more, Contenders contains within it the most un-sentimentalized version of the Karate Kid that any good street fighter could want, complete with epigraphs pulled from Krouse’s knowledge of the inner workings of Asia...most particularly Japan. It’s a novel that moves with the quickness of a slap to the face, and does what a good slap and good literature always does...it wakes you up. This is an absorbing and rewarding read."
—Richard Wiley, PEN/Faulkner Award winner for Soldiers in Hiding
"A damn good read, delivered with bare-knuckled power. Funny without that keen wit ever distracting from its page-turning story. Slender and taut and throwing hooks from scene one, Erika Krouse's Contenders is a knockout."
-- Mat Johnson, USA James Baldwin Fellow and author of Pym
"The sharpest, most intense romantic comedy you’ll ever read. Or a journey deep into the resonance of dark memories and loss. Erika Krouse’s Contenders is unlike any novel I can remember—it straddles the line of sweetness and brutality like a beautiful, punch drunk, fragile fighter looking for love."
—William Haywood Henderson, author of Augusta Locke
"I've been waiting for Nina Black for a long time. Violent, gruff, and relentlessly female, Nina is the kind of antihero we've rarely seen in fiction. Contenders is a one-of-a-kind powerhouse of a novel that further showcases Krouse as a talent to be reckoned with."
—Sarah Bird, author of Above the East China Sea
"Contenders is a ferociously taut novel driven with the power of a shuto (knife hand), not a mere punch. It is unapologetically on the fringe of everything, which, in this day and age, places it right in the heart of what matters. Here is a novel that does not flinch when facing the sacrifices of what it takes to be human. You can read novel after novel about urban ennui. This is not that novel. The folk philosophy in Contenders is a foil for the rigorous and tenacious philosophical underpinnings that bind this book like sinew and muscle. Nina Black, the main character—who owns ninety-two IDs—rises from these pages as one indelibly complex woman driven by loss and beauty. Nina will burrow into your heart and mind and ask, over and over, What matters to you? What would you die for? But more essentially: What would you live for? This is the toughest, meanest, most compassionate novel I have read this year. I humbly bow to Erika Krouse’s brilliance."
—BK Loren, author of Theft and Animal, Mineral, Radical
"Erika Krouse has penned a fierce and fearless novel about the purity of violence and the necessity of honor. Contenders kicks and blazes and jabs, and in all the right corners it breathes with love, with the beauty born of commitment. Her Denver is a pitiless place of forgotten promise, and her heroine, Nina Black, is a twenty-first-century American badass, strutting across these pages with uncommon elan. A beautifully crafted novel."
—William Giraldi, author of Hold the Dark
"Contenders is a sunburst of a novel, one that blazes into your heart and won’t let go. Erika Krouse has an uncanny ability to write about the intersection of violence and love, and in doing so she renders a basic and important human truth: that pain and rage are often a response to heartbreak. After all, what is fighting but an expression of desire? Contenders is part karate thriller, part zen koan, part mystery, part beat novel, and part love story. Krouse impressively weaves these all together into a deeply moving tale. I’m mesmerized by Contenders, and by the exceptional courage and heart contained within."
—Michael Henry, author of Active Gods
“Forget about Katniss, or Dragon Tattoo’s Lisbeth Salander, and even Zou Lei from Preparation for the Next Life, Nina Black is the real deal—a female antihero who can fight. With wit, parables, streetfights that have you ducking, cheering, and gasping for breath, and a breakneck plot, Erika Krouse has written an intensely entertaining, very funny, highly stylish, and finally moving love story of broken people battling through a dystopian Denver to find each other. Contenders may well be the best woman warrior novel ever written.”
—Baine Kerr, author of Wrongful Death
"Krouse...writes with a pulse-pounding and engaging ferocity that grabs at the reader. Contenders is heart-racingly original."
"Krouse...can craft a sentence so sharp it’ll cut your skin, and begins each chapter with an entrancing tale from martial arts lore." -- "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."
—B&N Reads and High Country News
"Contenders is about as engrossing as it gets."