THE GODDESS AND THE AMERICAN GIRL: Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills by Larry Engelmann

THE GODDESS AND THE AMERICAN GIRL: Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A gripping blend of biography, sports legend, and social history. Engelmann writes with the excitement and immediacy of a top sports reporter, the psychological sensitivity of a perceptive biographer, and the broad perspective of a cultural historian. He makes his subject as fascinating to the general reader as Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills made the elite game of tennis to the general public back in the 20's. These formidable female tennis stars were cultural icons of their day. Lenglen, the ""Goddess,"" a seven-time Wimbledon champion, was a master of placing the ball. She played with extraordinary intelligence and beauty, so light and graceful she never came down from her toes during a match. She smiled and charmed her way into becoming the first true tennis celebrity, but she was also neurasthenic and high-strung, smoked and drank and stayed up until all hours. She was, to her audiences, the quintessential French woman. Helen Wills, on the other hand, was placid and solid and beautiful, demure and old-fashioned, unbeatably wholesome. She played a solid power game. The sports press served her up as the ideal American Gift. From 1919, when Lenglen won her first Wimbledon championship, to 1938, when Wills won her eighth, these two held center court in the sports press. They were frequently front-page news, especially the one time they confronted each other, in Cannes in 1926. Engelmann deftly re-creates the women's public personalities (thus giving insight into their heady era) as well as their private characters. His talent as an action writer comes out in his vivid coverage of Lenglen's and Wills' matches: more than half a century later, these games still take your breath a way. In all, then, a powerful piece of writing that makes a potentially parochial topic both compelling and illuminating.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press