Friday, March 5, 2010

Double Fault

Double Fault by Lionel Shriver
hardcover, 317 pages
Doubleday, 1997
ISBN-13: 9780385488303
Literary fiction

Synopsis from publisher:
Tennis has been Willy Novinsky's one love ever since she first picked up a racquet at the age of four. A middle-ranked pro at twenty-three, she's met her match in Eric Oberdorf, a low-ranked, untested Princeton grad who also intends to make his mark on the international tennis circuit. Eric becomes Willy's first passion off the court, and eventually they marry. But while wedded life begins well, full-tilt competition soon puts a strain on their relationship—and an unexpected accident sends driven and gifted Willy sliding irrevocably toward resentment, tragedy, and despair.
From acclaimed author Lionel Shriver comes a brilliant and unflinching novel about the devastating cost of prizing achievement over love.
My Thoughts:

Shriver is an excellent writer and Double Fault displays her keen attention to language and detail. It is not, however, one of her better novels. The tone of Double Fault is relentlessly, overwhelmingly bitter. Tension is taut and unyielding through the whole novel. I found all the characters unlikable. Willy is so focused on herself, her goal, that she can't work out any marital problems or conflicts. I don't think Double Fault is an accurate picture of a two career relationship at all. I've never played tennis. I've never dedicated myself to pursue one course of action no matter what. In many ways my husband and I are very much a case of opposites attracting. We have some common interests, but many more different interests and hobbies.The result of my life experiences makes me completely unable to relate to Willy's single-mindedness and her inability to work out her relationship with Eric.
Recommended - because of Shriver's writing, but understand that this is a novel full of tension and bitterness.


At the top of the toss, the ball paused, weightless. Willy's arm dangled slack behind her back. The serve was into the sun, which at its apex the tennis ball perfectly eclipsed. opening

His fingers hooked the galvanized wire. He had predatory eyes and a bent smile of unnerving patience, like a lazy lion who would wait all day in the shade for supper to walk by. Though his hairline was receding, the lanky man was young, yet still too white to be one of the boys from nearby Harlem scavenging strays for stickball. He must have been searching the underbrush for his own errant ball; he had stopped to watch her play. pg. 2

"That was the most gutless demonstration I've ever seen," he announced.
"Oh, men always make excuses," said Willy. "Beaten by a girl."
"I didn't mean he was gutless. I meant you."
She flushed. "Pardon?"
"Your playing that meatball is like a pit bull taking on a Chihuahua. Is that how you get your rocks off?"
"In case you haven't noticed, I don't have rocks."
The lanky man clucked. "I think you do." pg. 4

Zipping his cover, Eric directed, "Time we had Randy's beer. Flor De Mayo. I'm starving."
"I may have missed it - was that asking me out?"
"It was telling you where we're having dinner."
"How do you know I don't have plans with a friend?"
"You don't," he said simply. pg. 7

"Tennis is about control," Eric disagreed.
"Tennis is about everything," Willy declared with feeling.
Eric laughed. "Well, I wouldn't go quite that far. But you're right, it's not the eyes. The tennis game is the window of the soul." pg. 12

...Willy belonged to the select stable of older pros whom Max was grooming for the tour. Many were handpicked from the graduating class, though a few, like Willy, were bagged on Max's cross-country shopping trips. pg. 18

Besides, through the summer Willy came to understand that her suitor's strategy was sourced not in self-abasement but conceit. Eric Oberdorf was a single-minded man who once bent on a project did not relent until its object was achieved. He did not court Willy with an eye to his own self-protection, because it never entered his head that he would fail. This proclivity for unreserved full-tilt at what he would not be denied was both winning and unsettling. pg. 40

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