Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 18, 2019

Coach Fitz, by Tom Lee

Coach Fitz is the debut novel of Sydney author Tom lee – and it’s seriously good fun.  Serious in the way that the novel depicts the very serious business of running while also satirising the ‘wellness’ and ‘self-improvement’ industries, while the sly mockery of self-obsession reminded me of Dave Hughes and his deadpan delivery of comedy that punctures self-importance.

The narrator Tom is a narcissistic young man wholly absorbed in over-analysing his own obsessions.  When the novel opens he is hoping to get over his most recent failure with girls (Alex, in London) by improving his body-image (an obsession since adolescence), so he engages the services of an eccentric coach to help him improve his marathon performance.  Coach Fitz is an expert in psycho-babble, and her unique take on running is that training should involve mindfulness about the running tracks.  Readers familiar with the city of Sydney will enjoy the detailed (and quirky) descriptions of the various routes they tackle, starting at Centennial Park, moving on to Cooper Park in Bellevue Hill and Sir Joseph Banks Park and then to the beaches at Manly and Bondi and so on.

Cooper Park (wikipedia Commons*)

At Cooper Park, for example,  which Tom had previously known only as an obscure lump of bush, Coach Fitz enlightens him…

We stretched at the stone pillars, Coach Fitz emphasising the importance of developing an appreciation for stretching as an event as important as the run itself, and an ability to take control of what she referred to as ‘dead time’ and use it as a source for contemplation, pleasure, or to simply take it on its own terms in a fashion free from agitation.

While we stretched Coach Fitz drew my attention to the unique features of the site, commenting on her love of natural amphitheatres, of which this was a fine example, and on her deliberate choice to embark on the run at a time when the transition from day to night was experienced to its fullest extent.  Coach said that the feeling of running through an amphitheatre gave her the sense of being watched over and spurred on by the landscape.  It accommodated the degree of theatricality she believed was crucial to activate in the soul of a runner.  The world is watching you, she would say, run like the wind! (p.18)

Tom earnestly engages with all this self-help waffle until the coaching involves some sessions off-piste, as it were.  They lunch at the (fictional?) Medina Hotel at Railway Square, amid a variety of saddening shops of the kind common to tourist areas and train stations [which] made up the street level mise-en-scène.  Tom is a bit of a foodie but with a strong puritan streak, so Coach Fitz’s suggestion of wine puts Tom into a lather of indecision:

Having wine at lunch was a transgression I had allowed myself on very few occasions.  The idea delighted me when I witnessed couples indulging in such behaviour, but confronted with the prospect of being inducted into that community by a figure who still seemed largely anomalous, I regarded the invitation with a disproportionate amount of dread.

I’m having the chardonnay, said Coach, perhaps sensing my vulnerability at this point of indecision.

Next time the waiter came around I went through the routine of ordering my wine, though stripped of the excitement I’d thought I’d feel when imagining such an occasion.  I had no stake in the idea now, and whether this was true or not, felt it foisted upon me by the tacit presumptions of Coach Fitz, who sat there enjoying her wine in a divinely untroubled fashion. (p.53)

Coach Fitz has strong opinions on the ways young men mismanage their lives, so Tom is quite taken aback when she gets tipsy, and poor naïve lad that he is, he just can’t handle it when her indiscretions extend to a naked invitation to dalliance. But he recovers, to take up the art of coaching himself, using it as a way of developing a relationship with Morgan, the brother of Alex the ex-girlfriend still in London.  (Though they are bonding despite the miles between them using an app called Strava – which is (who knew??) a social networking platform for runners and cyclists. Perhaps it’s like Ravelry for knitters, though knitters, I think, lack a competitive edge and Personal Bests.)

I wasn’t able to restrain a snicker when I read that for Tom, eating a nectarine at Castlecrag is another opportunity for self-reflection:

As I ate, I imagined there was something in the relationship between this setting, the nectarine I was eating, and Morgan, Alex and their extended family, which all contributed to what I felt to be the best experience of eating stone fruit, perhaps any fruit, in my life, providing optimal hydration before a taxing session in the hottest part of the day and at the same time healing the damage to my soul. (p.160)

Poor Tom.  It must be exhausting…

At The Saturday Paper, the reviewer comments that there’s an easy matter-of-factness here, a flatness of affect reminiscent of Gerald Murnane.  The comparison with Murnane is useful because Tom himself is such a Murnanean creation.  Read the review here.

*Image attribution:

The cover design is by Harry Williamson and the cover image is by Rachael Wakefield Rann.

Author: Tom Lee
Title: Coach Fitz
Publisher: Giramondo Publishing, 2018, 256 pages
ISBN: 9781925336900
Review copy courtesy of Giramondo Publishing

Available from Giramondo, from Fishpond: Coach Fitz and from all good bookstores.


Responses

  1. I’m tempted to read this to unwind after Gogol’s Dead Souls and because I have running maniacs round me. :-)

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    • Running maniacs! You have my sympathy:)
      What did you think of Dead Souls?

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      • Dead Souls was difficult to read despite its obvious literary worth..

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        • Yes, it takes a while to work out what’s going on…

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  2. Give up the running, and take up wine with lunch is my advice. He’s not going to meet many girls while he’s training for hours each day.

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    • Ah, but the best way to meet someone for a lasting relationship is to meet them doing something you love:)

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  3. […] Tom Lee’s Coach Fitz, see my review […]

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  4. […] Coach Fitz by Tom Lee (see my review) […]

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  5. […] Coach Fitz by Tom Lee, see my review […]

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  6. […] Coach Fitz, by Tom Lee […]

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  7. […] Coach Fitz by Tom Lee, see my review […]

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