The Transcendent Qualities of Tennis…

Slipping into my Andy Rooney mode….didja ever notice that you hear about one thing–say portobello mushrooms–and then for the next few days all your hear about is portobello mushrooms?

Well, that’s how it has been for tennis for me.  I honestly didn’t think people played tennis too much anymore and then I met two guys I work with who play tennis (and they’re on the older side) and they are in leagues and state tournaments and then there was another guy at a publication.  So.  Tennis.

And then, of course, there’s Infinite Jest, a significant portion of which takes place at one of those tennis academies that started to be big about when this book was created.  (They still exist.  The most famous was Nick Bolliteri who founded what is now the multi-sport IMG Academy and trained Monica Seles, Andre Aggasi, etc, in the kind of boot camp immersive experience that DFW describes in this book).1

I’m not going to go into a description of how good DFW is at detail.  The locker room scene, where the boys are hanging out is just incredibly described, because that’s been covered.  He has an incredible eye.

The question we started with was:  is this a great book?  Or merely a literary circus exhibition.

It isn’t a story in the truest sense…which you wouldn’t expect.  There is sort of a plot (so far) but it isn’t going to be a plot that follows along any kind of linear path.  And yes, there are incredibly realistic scenes like the locker room scene, but they are juxtaposed next to sweat licking scenes and other bizarre stories and as realistic as some parts are the book is set in the future but a future which does not appear to be very much different than this one.

Anyway, here’s the thing.  This all has to be for a purpose.  Or you would hope.  Barb showed me a quote this weekend where Dave Eggers called the book “lexical diarrhea” (before he wrote other reviews praising it when that became the cool thing to do).

DFW has said this was a book he had to write.  I just can’t believe there’s nothing to it besides lexical cirque du soleil.

When Barb and I talked about it this weekend, we sort of said that this is like looking at art or listening to a symphony…don’t try to understand it, just let it happen to you.  This is about as far from my training and mental approach as something can get.  I don’t like abstract art.  I’m going to do my best, though, moving ahead with the trust that there is simplicity (and therefore meaning) on the other side of the complexity.

1DFW is a true believer when it comes to the transcendent qualities of tennis, as demonstrated here when he writes about “Roger Federer as Religious Experience” for The New York Times.


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