The title of this book really says it all, I think. Carrie Soto is back! And her journey to getting there is a super fun one. I liked this book a lot.
First, our protagonist herself: Carrie is driven and vicious, fiery and calculating, determined and stubborn, all these things and more almost to the point of catharsis. Her development over the course of the novel was enthralling, and I loved how it was reflected in her training and successes or failures in games, as well as her emotional state afterwards. Her voice is engaging and drives the narrative forward in a way that is distinctly Carrie Soto, as the writing underlines with its similar brusque, willful tone and syntax. There are a few moments where the diction becomes especially brutal, often in dialogue, and it is genuinely invigorating. The repeated comparisons to Achilles are my favorite example of the writing really unleashing Carrie’s sense of violence and grandeur, as they also connect her further to her upbringing with Javier as her coach and father at once.
The deviations from the typical “Battle Axe'' Carrie we see through the novel are all the more compelling in their contrast-- the full scale of her identity, from public figure to student to retiree and the way she perceives herself through all those lenses, is presented with a matter-of-fact sureness that suits her character perfectly. Carrie’s flaws are realistic and relatable; while her inability to accept defeat and the way she defines failure evoke a keen sense of irony every time they become relevant, the reader cheers Carrie on anyway, absorbed into her world through her voice. This protagonist and this writing work perfectly together, and complement the main cast-- Javier, Nikki, and Bowe most notably-- in a fresh, interesting manner.
Speaking of which, the supporting cast of this book is a departure from those of TJR’s other literary works, or at least I felt like it was. What I loved about Malibu Rising, Daisy Jones & The Six, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was how sprawling the world felt, given life through a vibrant net of so many characters’ relationships with each other; this book’s scope felt narrower than that. The main cast is smaller and the supporting cast feels less relevant and detailed than those of TJR’s other works. Ultimately, I think that narrowing of scope works in favor of this book’s narrative. Carrie’s story wouldn’t have worked, I think, with that massive amount of detail afforded to all her competitors, because of her self-imposed solitary nature and how her character develops. I do have to say the main draw of TJR’s writing is, for me, mainly that web she weaves of the characters, and because this book’s web is a bit more tight-knit than I was expecting, I was a little disappointed at first. What this book does with its narrow focus on Carrie is interesting, and I enjoyed it-- but it wasn’t exactly what I anticipated from TJR, so that might be helpful to know before diving in. This book doesn’t sprawl as much.
I actually really enjoyed the events and pacing of the novel-- I didn’t know how engaged I would be with the plot going in, as I am not a tennis fan, but the structure of the novel around the different competitions, plus the backstory Carrie gives after her in medias res introduction, was just super fun to read. Some of the plot beats are a tad predictable, but in a satisfying put-it-together-yourself way rather than a get-to-the-point way. I liked how Carrie’s own inability to see past herself draws the reader’s attention to the foreshadowing she ignores-- I mentioned the sense of irony this book creates before, and it definitely works in tandem with the structure of the novel itself. This is a story that takes its audience along for the ride while also allowing them to predict its events; the merit of this book, and where it most highly succeeds, is in getting to its destination, absorbing the reader into the journey even if they have a decent idea of how it will end. It’s a treat to be entrenched alongside Carrie in her one-track-minded perception of the narrative, which is why the structure being centered around the competitions works so well: her priorities shape how the story itself is told, playing into her character while conveying its themes through irony at once.
Lastly, I would like to note that this book is, as others have noted, quite tennis-heavy. But even as someone who knows nothing about any sport, I found it compelling. The drama and intensity of the plot is easy to follow even for someone unfamiliar with tennis-- the book conveys everything the reader needs to know about tennis to understand the events of the novel and Carrie’s mindset in an easily comprehensible way, without ever overloading the audience with too much information. I imagine that in the more tennis-heavy sections of the story, especially the actual recounting of matches, there’s a lot of room for interpretation of Carrie’s character based off the actual logistics of how she’s playing-- which a scrutinizing tennis fan would likely pick up on. However, even as a layperson, the depth is definitely there and extremely satisfying to read.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It is deliciously brutal except when it transcends into ephemeral, fleeting moments of self-realization, and the contrast is addictive. Carrie’s story is fun to follow. Her character is multifaceted and outspoken in a way that shines with the actual writing of the novel. It isn’t as entangled or written with the wide scope TJR’s other literary works take, but it’s intriguing on its own. I loved its insight into perfectionism and legacies and what defines a person. It was a really fun read.
Graphic: Misogyny, Death of parent, and Sexism
Minor: Alcoholism and Cancer