This is probably my favorite of the Taylor Jenkins Reid books so far. Carrie Soto appears early in Malibu Rising as the tennis star who crashes figuratively into one the character’s life. In this book she is the star and narrates almost the whole novel, minus the interpolation of media surrounding the tennis world from time to time. We begin with Carrie Soto, retired tennis star who holds the record the most Grand Slam titles, watching as her record is finally beaten by someone she never really faced in her career. She’s at the match with her former coach, and still current father, and together they make a pact to return to the sport. We then get a long section detailing her phenomenal career starting with the retirement of her father from a flashy but short-lived tennis career, Carrie’s birth and early life, and the untimely death of her mother. From that moment on, it’s all about tennis as her father prepares her for her career, which he tells her, will be the most successful in tennis history.
As we reach her adolescence and early adulthood, we also pick up Carrie’s penchant for short-lived “romances” (if one night counts in some cases) as she stays focused on tennis, her single-mindedness that leads her to come off as brusque and unfriendly within the tour, and finally the match where she played directly into her opponent’s nagging injury which gets her the nickname “The Battleaxe” which of course is a nice way to say “bitch.”
Once we get back to the present tense, we find her training for the Australian Open and needing a hitting partner. She ends up working with Bo Huntly, a one-time lover and also aging tennis champ who is also looking for one last go-round. You can imagine where this takes us. But her focus is entirely on Nicki Chen, the woman who took her title from her, and her biggest opponent.
The novel is set primarily in 1995 or so, but spends a lot of time in the world of tennis from about 1975-1990. Carrie is obviously a blend of a few people or maybe more so cast in similar light. While McEnroe and Borg get mentioned, and so does Court, there’s no other real-life tennis stars in the novel. Because of the generational nature of tennis where one set of stars is rising as others are fading, we get a pattern of similar rivalries. If you think about late 80s tennis, there’s no obvious Carrie Soto, but she’s probably got a lot of Chris Evert in her, some Navratilova, and her rival clearly has a lot of Martina Navratilova in her (there’s also a Steffi Graf in her too). Bo is probably modeled on a blend of Jimmy Connors and McEnroe.
It’s hard not to look at this novel as continuing in the universe, especially since Carrie reads Daisy Jones’s biography in this book so, so who knows where we head next. I assume somewhere down the line we’ll get an art novel, a fashion novel, and probably eventually a writer novel.