Distance has given us spacetime, quantum fields and their spinoffs, such as the universe, the one we can see. In Ivan Vladislavic’s hands one might expect The Distance to show up as something much more mundane, like a courier company’s logo on a driver’s overalls.  In his latest novel, its primary association is with boxing, where the evocative phrase “going the distance” keeps to the spacetime continuum. Recently Floyd Mayweather was accused of dodging and running until the last two rounds, when he blasts away on attack to get the edge for a points victory. It’s like walking one’s way to victory. One boxer who could talk the walk was Muhammad Ali, who practically becomes one of the characters in the novel when Joe, a writer much in the vein of Vladislavic, tries to go the distance with a collection of newspaper clippings on the great boxer which he had kept as a young boy in the 1970s. This extended set-piece, allowing Joe/Vladlslavic to practise his trademark examinations of the a...

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