In a nameless Hungarian town, teenagers on a competitive swim team occupy their after-training hours with hard drinking and fast cars, hash cigarettes and marathons of Grand Theft Auto, the meaningless sex and late-night exploits of a world defined by self-gratification and all its attendant recklessness. Invisible to their parents and subject to the whims of an abusive coach, the crucible of competition pushes them again and again into dangerous choices. When a deadly accident leaves them second-guessing one another, they’re driven even deeper into violence.
Brilliantly translated into breakneck English by Ildikó Noémi Nagy, Dead Heat is a blistering debut and an unforgettable story about young men coming of age in an abandoned generation.
Praise for Dead Heat
“Dead Heat is steeped in nihilism and intoxication, frequent violence and brutality, a casual acceptance (and frequent occurrence) of sexual assault. One wants to believe it’s over the top, but the novel’s accepting tone casts everything in the cold light of verisimilitude … whereas history is said to be written by the winners, coming-of-age fiction tends to be written by, or of, the losers (to steal a label from Stephen King’s IT), the outsiders, the underdogs. In Dead Heat, the focal characters are the local elite: members of a champion swim team, popular at school, with several members of the group coming from wealthy families. The disturbing levels of brutality, and their complete lack of consequences, may simply be a reflection of the way it has always been for the stars of the teen world, and the world at large … However you analyze it, Dead Heat is a valuable read, and has the feel of an important book. Consider this an opportunity, then, to brace yourself for what you will find between the covers.”—Toronto Star
“This is a satire of the bleakest strain: there is scarcely a page that does not offend. And yet the result is utterly enthralling … As savage, reckless, and abhorrent as the world Totth delivers is, what’s worse is how frighteningly real it all feels. Dead Heat is an undeniably uncomfortable novel, but so too is the truth it’s trying to get at.”—Quill and Quire, starred review
“Totth’s novel and its translation from the Hungarian by Nagy both excel … in conveying the banality and numbness as its narrator proceeds through this parade of horrors.The juxtaposition of transgressive behavior with competitive sports recalls nothing quite so much as Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries. Like that book, the way in which this narrative is told makes for compelling reading even as the acts it describes can inspire shudders.Totth’s debut is a harrowing experience but also a frequently gripping one.”—Kirkus
“[Dead Heat’s] internal tension never calcifies into numbness or cynicism — it never gets tiresome, but remains white-hot to the end … The novel’s effect is cumulative rather than linear, and part of the story’s absorbing quality is how lurchingly unpredictable it is.”—Michigan Daily
“Let’s say it up front: reading Dead Heat, the Hungarian writer Benedek Totth’s first novel, is a shock . . . [like] the cry of love and desperation flung out by a generation that’s finished before it can begin, before it can even reach maturity.”—Yann Perreau, Les Inrockuptibles
“A brilliant novel, but brilliant like a black diamond and cursed so that you don’t want to hold it, a tale that never lets you go, no matter how much repugnance you may feel.”—Encre Noire
“Intense, brutal and relentless. As on a mad merry-go-round, you’re delighted not to be able to get off before it’s over. But watch out: the harsh form and subject matter will leave more modest readers shaken.”—TéléStar
“Dead Heat is about an empty world . . . its language full of slang, its elocution prizing sexuality, violence and luxury goods. Its hallucinatory moments call to mind classics of 20th-century American literature like Bret Easton Ellis, Raymond Carver or Hunter S. Thompson, or the cult movie Trainspotting and the violence of youth at its centre reminds us of Golding’s Lord of the Flies.”—Magyar Narancs
“A savage world where teenagers roam like zombies high on drugs . . . a whirling sequence of fast-paced movie scenes, sharp dialogues and luxuriant visions.”—Szépirodalmi Figyelo
“Dead Heat is a no-holds-barred portrait of adolescents adrift . . . The blue waters of the Danube have never looked this troubled.”—Paris Match
“Benedek Totth darkens his pages with a boundless talent. He writes like a man screaming, moved by furious desperation. Totth’s dialogues show that he understands the power of humour, and he also knows that the world moves too fast and leaves those who don’t know how to swim at the edge of the pool. A devastating, beautiful Noir novel.”—L’Express (Paris)