Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Published: May 30, 2017
Genre: General Fiction Adult
This book came along to me at the perfect time. I am recovering from a surgery and wanted to read something different than I usually do (historical fiction). The author tells a story of a child tennis prodigy whose driven, narcissistic father pushes his son so hard that the boy knows nothing of life outside of brutal trainings and playing tournaments. He is taken out of school so he can concentrate on nothing but tennis. All through his childhood and teen years he has neither friends nor social skills. “A tennis racket lurks in my earliest memories like a sick relative who had come to live with us.” The reader will hurt for this isolated boy who grows up to become the #1 ranked tennis player in the world.
This is a work of fiction, but back in 2009 I read “Open, an Autobiography” by tennis great Andre Agassi. The similarities are strong. Both have abusive fathers (think Pat Conroy’s novel “The Great Santini” if the father in Conroy’s book was on steroids) whom they couldn’t escape from until they became men. Both have an elder brother (in real life Agassi has three) who couldn’t take the pressure or make the grade, leaving the child most gifted in the family forced to live in their backyard tennis prison, while their elder brother(s) have a normal life, playing tennis only for fun. And, as an adult, both have a Hollywood celebrity girlfriend. This fictional work reads as an autobiographic coming of age story.
I actually know little about tennis. It is one of the sports that I do not follow. However, you do not need to know about the game to enjoy this story. My favorite part in the book is when our teenage tennis player slowly begins to attempt to get out from under his overbearing father’s thumb. He begins to wonder if his success is in exchange for his happiness. When steroids are pushed on him he struggles with the questions, is he ruining his health and endangering his career? Unfortunately, sometimes the dialogue is wooden or so obvious I rolled my eyes. “I told him how winning never feels as good as losing feels bad.” Still, this is a good book that allows the reader to get inside the mind of a professional athlete, especially an athlete who begins his career as a child and is marketed as a prodigy.
The novel left me wondering, are the makings of a champions this brutal for all sports child prodigies? Do any grow up to be as mentally healthy as they are physically resilient? Are there any athletes that are household names without ambitious parents who seek to control and live vicariously through their children? I think the author misses an opportunity in exploring these questions. No matter, I was rooting for our tennis player throughout the story and I recommend the book if you are, or are not, a tennis fan.
Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read