A tennis prodigy struggles with his overbearing father and what it truly means to win.
Brunt, who in previous novels has tackled finance (Ghost of Manhattan, 2012) and politics (The Means, 2014), returns with a fast-paced take on the world of pro sports. The novel follows Anton Stratis, the son of two former Olympic athletes, and chronicles his life and career as a tennis player, from auspicious beginnings as a child prodigy to his triumphs and failures on the pro circuit. Anton’s path is never an easy one, beset by girl troubles, performance-enhancing drugs, and, above all, the specter of his domineering father, whose presence hovers over every scene and who pushes Anton to succeed at the expense of his own happiness. For all the thrilling tennis matches he depicts, Brunt ultimately cares less about whether his protagonist will find success on the court than about whether he will ever find peace off it. In his struggle to find self-actualization and happiness, however, Anton is never quite a believable character, and the conflict he faces between his own desires and his father's win-at-all-costs mentality never feels like anything more than a narrative contrivance. Indeed, the novel as a whole, while never dull, suffers from a persistent heavy-handedness in tone and plotting. Elements like an oft-mentioned rival feel thinly sketched, present only because prior sports fiction necessitated their inclusion, and dialogue alternates between cringeworthy and merely wooden, with turgid, on-the-nose lines like, “But a person is happy in his life only if he finds meaning in it, and meaning in life is positively correlated with choice in life. While I wasn’t conscious of that fact then, I suffered from it unknowingly,” appearing far too often.
A pro sports bildungsroman with the excitement of a Federer-Nadal match but none of its grace.