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Double Fault [Hardcover]

Lionel Shriver
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 14 1997
An ardent middle-ranked professional tennis player, Willy Novinsky meets her match in Eric Oberdorf, the handsome rogue she drubs in a pick-up game in Manhattan's Riverside Park. Eric is charmingly gracious in defeat, and his casual confidence takes her in. Low-ranked but untested, Eric, too, aims to make his mark on the international tennis circuit. Willy beholds compatibility spiced with friendly rivalry, and discovers her first passion outside a tennis court. They marry.



Conjugal life starts well on the Upper West Side of New York. But animated shop talk and blissful love-making soon give way to full-tilt competition over who can rise to the top first. Driven and gifted, Willy maintains the lead until she severs her knee ligaments in a devastating spill. As Willy recuperates, her ranking plummets just as her husband becomes the upstart darling of the tennis circuit. Ultimately Eric plays in the U.S. Open. Anguished at falling short of her lifelong dream and resentful of her husband's success, Willy slides irresistibly toward the first quiet tragedy of her young life.



Taut as match-point, Double Fault chronicles a marriage imploded by ambition. Just as Richard Yates exposed the dangers of traditional marriage in Revolutionary Road, Lionel Shriver reveals the hazards of a two career relationship. A brilliant novel about the price both men and women pay for prizing achievement over love.

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From Library Journal

A marriage wrecked on the shoals of ambition is the theme of Shriver's intriguing sixth novel (The Female of the Species, LJ 2/15/87). When 23-year-old Willy Novinsky meets and marries Eric Oberdorfer, she's a rising professional tennis star and he's a Princeton graduate who just plays for the love of the game. As Eric's tennis prowess increases and his ranking in the men's professional circuit rises, Willy suffers an injury and then a loss of confidence, both of which cause her rankings to plummet. Willy must decide whether her love for her husband is greater than her desire for a number-one ranking in women's tennis and how much she will sacrifice to achieve her goal. Shriver's challenge here is to convince the reader to empathize with Willy, despite her unattractive behavior and misguided choices. Shriver is a talented enough writer to win over some readers, but many will quickly lose patience with Willy and want to tell her to simply grow up and set her priorities straight. Recommended for public libraries.?Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Tennis is Willy Novinsky's one love. Ever since she picked up a racket at age four, she's been determined to become a star. But her family has been unsupportive, and Willy's fierce determination to play has left her with no friends and no other interests. Now 23, she's still only ranked 392 in the world and is reeling from the effects of a disastrous love affair with her longtime coach. Then Willy meets Eric Oberdorf, gangly, ambitious, attractive--and a promising tennis player. Attraction turns to love, and Eric and Willy marry. But the marriage has a calamitous effect on Willy's game. As her game goes bad, however, Eric's improves. When he overtakes Willy in the world rankings, the marriage slides from joyous to miserable. Shriver's novel provides an eye-opening and authentic look at the cutthroat world of pro tennis, but it's more than just a sports expose. It's the melancholy and tempestuous story of two people whose love couldn't survive their own selfishness. Emily Melton

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This is one of the worst books I've read in a long time. Willy is one of the most unlikable characters I've run across and Eric comes off, alternately, as a wimp and a jerk. The other characters are not much better and I couldn't have cared less about any of them. I kept hoping the book would pick up at some point and so kept slogging through it. Big mistake. The only bigger mistake was spending 20 plus bucks on it in the first place. I would not recommend this book to anyone
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Format:Hardcover
Admittedly, I checked this book out of the library b/c I really like to play tennis and I was curious about the book's use of the sport as metphor to explore (as the bkcover says)"marriage the ultimate sport." Only apparently, I wasn't fully prepared for the never-ending, morose, despiseable jealousies contained herein. I think Lionel Shriver is a talented writer, but that this book is abymally bitter, relentlessly bitter at every turn - to the point where I was ready to pitch the characters' marriage (&almost this book) long before the characters do. The main character, Willy Novinsky, is very unlikeable throughout (though I kept waiting in vain to find some redeeming quality), and I'm not sure she ultimately serves the rhetorical purpose of exploring the book's two-career marriage theme. Like being hammered over the head, the message here is suffocatingly clear. And though I might not agree with the author that modern marriage is inherently corrupt, I do believe no one in their right mind would want to spend another moment with these two. Like them, I found myself surely "beaten" by the end of this game's match.
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By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Lionel Shriver has confronted the demons from her own divorce several years before and written about her life with a power and a brave intimacy that is all too rare in modern fiction these days. I am not aware of the details of her divorce, but suspect that her husband was more interested in a help mate than an equal partner, and that when it became clear that she was not about to give fulfilling his needs priority over her career the relationship imploded. This was devastating to Ms. Shriver, who has finally taken the vital step of facing and vanquishing her demons in Double Fault. She changed many outward facts but it seems clear that the psychological structure she develops, crystallizes and shatters in Double Fault must bear close resemblance to her own experience, as the final fifty pages deliver a tone and depth of language that must be genuine. We shall see more honest, stalwart, hard hitting fiction from Ms. Shriver in the future as she continues to grow and gain confidence in her considerable literary talent.
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Format:Hardcover
Ms. Shriver has again written a psychological drama and social commentary disguised as fiction. This book details the emotional life of two people both in fast-track careers of pro-tennis. Willy and Eric both exhibit the destructive and self-destructive behaviors of people who have made "Being the best" their top priority and the author uses this as the vehicle to expose the myth of "winners" and "losers" as well as exploring the tangled emotions that make up a close relationship between two people. She makes the connection that "winner" is sometimes only slightly separated from "loser" with a twist of self-confidence and luck. The bevy of characters are all very human and recognizable, twisting in their emotional quagmires, going through life the best they know how, as the rest of us do.
This is not an "easy" book to get through and it certainly is not fluffy reading but it is very well written and the insights are true gems telling of the human condition. This is not a book I could get through in one sitting, it took several months to slowly take in, one piece at a time. As with Ms. Shriver's other books the plot is almost incidental and relatively transparent, again describing "real life". It is more the way that she exposes and describes the very human interactions and emotions of the characters that take center stage. A well written book definitely worth reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Searing book, gutsy author Aug. 25 1997
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
A great book, and far bigger than its factual framework of
professional tennis. Essentially, Shriver wants to show
what can happen when a husband and wife are uncompromsingly
ambitious, which occurs more and more as women take on careers.
She succeeds brilliantly, but in the process has to depict men
and women behaving very badly indeed. It's not her fault; that's
real life. Readers who like tradtionally redemptive and redeemable
characters and happy resolutions, though, had better open their
minds before tackling DOUBLE FAULT. It's worth the effort. (The
reader from Fox River Grove might as well stick to Harlequin romances,
it seems.)

The sadness of Shriver's book is completely earned, and
it will make a sophisticated reader think hard about how to manage
life as someone else's partner. The book is written in the traditional,
realistic voice, and with impressive literary virtuosity. The
subject-matter, as mentioned, pushes the envelope. What you wind up
with is a formally disciplined, stylish novel with social guts.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Yuck
What a relief to finish this depressing book. By the end I despised Willy and wished she would have used that glass shard. Yuck, what a loser. Read more
Published on June 8 2012 by S. Mackay
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing...
After reading We Need to Talk about Kevin in book club I searched out books by the same author. As an avid tennis player this looked ideal. Read more
Published on April 8 2009 by Leslie Hobson
5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book
An avid tennis player I am when I picked up a copy of "Double Fault" which clearly stated on the inside cover that it was a novel about an even harder sport- love and... Read more
Published on March 4 2004 by Laudan Tehrani
2.0 out of 5 stars bitter taste
Boy, I thought this was a bitter work. I liked some of her reviews in the Inquirer so I picked this up. Writing was almost callow. Read more
Published on March 6 2002 by "lawyerboy1533"
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written but depressing
The book is undoubtely well-crafted an written by a real "pro". The dialogue in particular was superb--almost too clever. Read more
Published on Sept. 26 1997 by P. Meltzer
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insights, terrific pace
This book has a lot of edge. It starts like an idyllic romance
and ends like film noir. The transition occurs gracefully -- through
powerful writing, a well-crafted... Read more
Published on Aug. 27 1997
5.0 out of 5 stars An eloquent, unsparing, wry book on the two-career marriage
This beautifully written, razor-sharp novel explores near-virgin

territory for literary fiction: career rivalry in the modern

marriage. Read more
Published on Aug. 1 1997
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