I had issues with this book. Yes, I know, I have issues with everything, but once again, they really got in the way of my enjoyment of the book. First off, this is a romance. That’s okay. It also isn’t a romance at all. It isn’t much of anything, because a lot of the issues at the core of the book – ambition, the definition of love, coupleship, the spread of one person in a relationship, the cult of the self – they’re all so very subjective. Me, personally, if I have a stable relationship, I don’t feel ambition. Or rather, I do, but I have to put that stable relationship first. Willy Novinsky and I don’t agree. Willy is in love with tennis first and foremost, and she’s a person somewhere a distant third or fourth place behind that. She’s not even in love with tennis as much as she is obsessed with her professional ranking in it, and that makes her a very thin character, which is super odd for Shriver. Her women usually freakin’ sing. Willy just hums.
Another character that fails to make it to the page is, sadly, Eric Oberdorf, or as Willy would have preferred to call him, Mr. Willy Novinsky. Eric is the antithesis of Willy: new to the sport, only half invested, swiping from other players to create his own game. He’s also far more in tune with the relationship: he makes the sacrifices (seriously where are the men like that) and takes the blows (there is spousal abuse in this novel.) The end revelations – an abortion and a possible divorce – are paper-thin and just…blah. There’s no depth to her choice: she’s literally done it without the audience two pages from the end and then the story just closes. It’s not a real ending. We have no idea if the marriage survives or not, nor do we actually care. We’ve watched Willy Novinsky eat herself, one sliding tennis rank number at a time, and we sort of want it to end already.
A real end would have been appreciated, though. A real middle – the story sags in a post-injury slump – would have been nicer. The story’s one singing moment was in the discovery that Willy’s coach was keeping her on in the hopes of getting into her pants. I would have liked to see her squash him out and make him regret that calculated moment, but I didn’t get the chance.
So, if you like ambiguous love stories that are heavy on tennis, this is your novel! It wasn’t mine, though. I did find it readable, but a lot of the revelations were pulled punches (the pregnancy, for instance, was coming from midbook, although rather amusingly, they never discuss the possibility or plan for it – ever.) That really cheapened the feel of the book, I think. This is mostly the story of how a woman is irrational over tennis and lets something good slip past her – or how, I suppose, even a “good” relationship can be destroyed by obsession. Honestly, the more I think about it, the less I understand it.