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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tennis, Anyone?

Nic Brown

Counterpoint, 2010

Slow Smith is a professional tennis player in a slump, both professionally and personally. He’s stuck in limbo because his wife is in a coma and he’s afraid he’s to blame. All he can do right now is visit her hospital room to continue to document her life with daily Polaroid photographs, something she had done through each month of her pregnancy. Meanwhile Kaz, Slow’s lifelong doubles partner, is traveling the world while playing with someone new while Slow’s tennis points dribble down to nothing. When Manny, Slow’s old coach, appears one morning in a dumpy Fiat convertible, he somehow persuades Slow to return to Forest Hills, the site of a six-year winning streak. Here Slow and Manny reunite with old friends who call up long-buried desires and reveal a secret that threatens to destroy Slow’s marriage as well as his friendship with Kaz. Slow just can’t win — and especially not back on the court. Turns out Kaz can’t either. Theirs is a bond driven as much by odd habits and superstitions as it is their shared life experiences, a partnership not unlike a marriage. Soon they discover the only way to get their lives back on track is by playing together again, whether they can win or not.

This is an odd little book that meanders around and doesn’t really get anywhere – kind of like Slow’s life. The only character that readers are allowed to get close to is Slow; the others are distant shadows whose actions aren’t explained or revealed in any meaningful way. Because of this, the only likeable character is Slow – perhaps because we understand his feelings of grief, betrayal, depression and confusion. We have no idea what’s going on with the others, and frankly, don’t really care by the end of the book. Luckily, things move along pretty quickly. No one is allowed to get too close or personal to anyone or anything, kind of like a doubles tennis game. At first I was sort of ho-hum about this book, but the more I thought about how closely it resembles the game of tennis, I became more enthusiastic about the author’s skill to accomplish this with mere words.


Other books by this author:
Floodmarkers, 2009

Other books you may enjoy:

The Kept Man by Jami Attenberg (2007)
Jarvis is a dark-haired young woman of Irish descent whose offbeat beauty gets her noticed everywhere. Rising art star Martin Miller has to have her, and their marriage is one of funky, punk-rock counterculture bliss until the unthinkable happens -- Martin suffers a fall that leaves him in a coma. As the months turn into years with Martin suspended in time, Jarvis's devotion to him continues even as her life moves forward without him.

Winter Dreams by Don J. Snyder (2004)
Having developed a love for golf and literature in the orphanage where he was raised, college professor Ross Lansdale travels to Scotland to confront his personal fears and compete in a tournament at the Old Course at Saint Andrews.

Lights Out by Jason Starr (2006)
A love triangle between baseball star Jake Thomas, his one-time high-school teammate, Ryan Rossetti, and Jake's fiancée Christina, collides in violence on the streets of Canarsie, Brooklyn.

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