BILLIE JEAN by Billie Jean with Frank Deford King
Kirkus Star

BILLIE JEAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Billie Jean tells all--sort of--in a rambling, repetitive, poorly written but scrappily candid memoir, one that's sharper on BJ's colleagues than on self-portraiture. Inevitably, BJ starts off with last year's lawsuit/lesbian scandal: the decision to go public; the story of the affair, which began when BJ was confused and overextended (""I didn't know where I was. . . one morning I woke up, and. . . I was in another woman's bed""); affirmations of love for husband Larry--without apologies (""Obviously I must be bisexual. . . I never felt so soft and feminine in all my life""). But, in these first chapters and throughout, the chatty, awkward narrative slides around from topic to topic--the Bobby Riggs match is mentioned in dribs and drabs along the way--and there's no real attempt at a chronological autobiography. Among the fragmentary recollections: growing up lower-middle-class and upwardly striving in Long Beach, CA (""I mean, it was like The Life of Riley, straight out of TV""); marriage to freakishly placid college-beau Larry (""We are so different. . . that divorce has pretty much been a constant possibility since 1969""); sexistly neglected teenage years around the So. California Tennis Association; having an abortion--but not for career reasons; a few big matches. Still, if thoroughly disappointing as life-story, this short book does just fine as a forum for Billie Jean's edgy, back-and-forth grudges, frustrations, and opinions. On the press--its double standards, its stereotyping (never writing ""about the jewelry I had on, because that contradicted the tough-broad image they had decided on""). On ""ridiculous anti-professionalism""; the endorsement rackets (""the Old Boy crowd squeezed me out""); the pros and cons of unions (the NFL union is ""socialistic""); the triumphs and limitations of feminism; the problems of female tennis physiology (vaginal itch, backhand volleys at the net if you have ""big boobs""); the psychology of ""tanking""--purposely losing. And, above all, on fellow players: the British, who ""are failing because they still think like r/u's"" (runner-ups); the dumb, univolved, tradition-less younger players (""And for all their money--boy, are most of them cheap""); Martina, who ""seems to possess a weak grasp on the everyday fundamentals of life""; old rival Maria Bueno (""a con, really""); such chauvinist pigs as Ashe and Kramer (whose memoirs, ironically, were also coauthored by Deford); Margaret Court (""what a champion she was!""); Virginia Wade, ""high-strung the wrong way, just as McEnroe is high-strung right""; and lots about Chrissie--""Little Miss American Pie. . . inserting sex into a press conference in a very coy way. . . more than anything, Chris is a star."" Sloppy as a book, shallow as a memoir--but surefire as a cantankerous tennis grab-bag with a tad of tasteful sensationalism.

Pub Date: June 14th, 1982
Publisher: Viking