“Exceptional...fast and smart, funny and sad, this is an outstanding sports novel, and Joe Mungo Reed is an author to watch” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).
Sol and Liz are a couple on the cusp. He’s a professional cyclist in the Tour de France, a workhorse, but not yet a star. She’s a geneticist on the brink of a major discovery, either that or a loss of funding. They’ve just welcomed their first child into the world, and their bright future lies just before them—if only they can reach out and grab it.
But as Liz’s research slows, as Sol starts doping, their dreams grow murkier and the risks graver. Over the whirlwind course of the Tour, they enter the orbit of an extraordinary cast of conmen and aspirants, and the young family is brought ineluctably into the depths of an illegal drug smuggling operation. As Liz and Sol flounder to discern right from wrong, up from down, they are forced to decide: What is it we’re striving for? And what is it worth?
“Joe Mungo Reed’s unforgettable debut novel introduces us to a powerful new literary voice—as riveting as Don DeLillo’s or Toni Morrison’s” (Mary Karr, author of The Liars’ Club). We Begin Our Ascent dances nimbly between tragic and comic, exploring the cost of ambition and the question of what gives our lives meaning. Reed melds the powerful themes of great marital dramas like Revolutionary Road with the humor, character, and heart of a George Saunders collection. Throughout, we’re drawn inside the cycling world and treated to the brilliant literary sports-writing of modern classics like The Art of Fielding or End Zone.
A cyclist competing in the Tour de France narrates Reed's strong, lean, compact debut novel, sharing his bruises and breakaways, cramps and collisions, and shedding light on the life of a competitor. The novel opens halfway through the race, with about two weeks left until the finish. Solomon's goal is not to win but to help team leader Fabrice win by providing pacing and protection, fetching food and water, and accelerating or falling back as needed. Solomon has trained hard for this event. His wife, Liz, a London research biologist and mother of their one-year-old son, understands ambition, dedication, and risk, and when Rafael, the team's director, asks her to deliver banned performance-enhancing substances, she agrees. Reed captures the rigors of competition as well as the complexities of competitive spirit in scenes such as when riders compare injuries en route to the hospital. With its taut, unsentimental prose, Reed's novel is both an exciting depiction of the prestigious bike race and an intimate portrait of a couple coming to terms with the cost of pursuing difficult goals and determining whether they're worth the price.