“Shriver shows in a masterstroke why character is fate and how sport reveals it.” —New York Times Book Review
From the author of the New York Times bestseller The Post-Birthday World, and the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin comes a brilliant and unflinching novel about the devastating cost of prizing achievement over love
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.
An unabashed message--love and ambition don't mix--flashes repeatedly between the lines of this earnest narrative about two tennis pros who must choose between their marriage and the game. In her sixth novel, Shriver (The Female of the Species) has imagined a credible marriage crisis: when Wilhelmina (Willy) Novinski and Eric Oberdorf meet, Willy already has standing in the ranks of pro tennis, and Eric, fresh out of Princeton, is scrambling to organize his ascent. Together and apart, they hit the circuit, gathering ranking points in a competitive, erotic struggle that infuses their marriage with rising tension. Their roles reverse: Willy grudgingly acknowledges Eric's skill, then struggles to beat him and ends up humiliated as he masters her own game and uses it against her. Eventually, Willy succumbs to the fear of failure that ensures the failure she fears. Shriver stacks the deck against Willy, whose defeatist family and embittered coach have filled her with mean-spirited insecurities, so that her final sacrifice for Eric (equally cocky but more individualized and just plain nicer) is also, unfortunately, her only really instinctive, unprogrammed gesture in the book. In a lengthy letter included with the galley, Shriver explains that she wrote this novel as a cautionary tale about the fatal mix of love and ambition. By substituting simple "truths" for complex, dynamic characters, this didactic novel fulfills her purpose all too well.