Sunday, November 11, 2007

Book Review: Break and Hold

Break and Hold by
Vivien Kalvaria

"There are so many how-to books. How to be a great parent of an athlete, all the do's and don't's…With my daughter Lauren I was always tearing out how-to things from newspapers, magazines, books and saying read this, and invariably she never did."

This inability to communicate the hard-won knowledge of tennis experts and veterans led Vivien Kalvaria to try a different tack. The result is one of the rare examples of tennis fiction, titled Break and Hold, which was published in August of this year.

I spoke with Kalvaria at the U.S. Open, where she provided me with a copy of the book to review on zootennis. It is inspired by a true story, that of the French tennis parent who spiked the drink of a rival, which ended up causing an automobile accident resulting in death, but the court case that provides the dramatic conclusion to the book is not a murder trial, and the similarities are more illustrative of a genre of tennis parent than an actual one.

Kalvaria was a tennis parent herself and knows the territory. Her daughter, an NCAA doubles champion at Stanford in 2002, was Top 50 ITF Junior and Top 400 WTA. The novel, which Kalvaria says took her nine years to write, is full of observations and scenes that reflect the everyday realities of junior tennis. The fictional Columberti Tennis Academy in Ft. Myers is a stand-in for any of the major boarding academies, including the world's most famous one just up the road in Bradenton, with the Easter Bowl and a USTA trip to Europe for the clay season also serving as prominent backdrops.

There is drama, love, suspense and, at the end, surprise, but ultimately, it is a portrayal of the destructive and ugly side of parental ambition.

When I talked with Kalvaria at the Open, before reading the book, I warned her that I was more drawn to the positives of junior tennis than the negatives, but I've been around the circuit long enough now to know that for every inspirational story, there is one that can only be categorized as depressing, though they rarely reach the extreme depicted within this book.

Kalvaria certainly succeeds in pointing out the missteps and the dangers inherent in the volatile combination of "talented child, parent and money," and is also adept at providing insight into the unique issues girls face, all without preaching.

I think her point is diluted however, by the diabolical portray of the father, one of the few characters in the book that doesn't ring true. A Grand Slam champion (I don't mean a player who has won a Grand Slam title, I mean one who has won all four in a calendar year) driving a taxi for a living? Tennis has very few outcasts, and having such an accomplished one doesn't really add significantly to the story. What current tennis parent could identify with that? A character who played No. 1 on his college team, or one who has no trophies for tennis achievement might be a more believable villain. It would certainly be more reflective of the majority of stage-parents, whether they are in sports or entertainment or other highly competitive fields. And it probably goes without saying that the people who might truly benefit from a look at all the inappropriate behavior depicted in the book would never recognize themselves in the portrayals. But if it can start a dialogue between a parent and a child about expectations and self-control, or any of the other traps that often ensnare even the most well-meaning tennis parents, Kalvaria has done the sport a service.

The writing style is also a little adverb and adjective heavy for me, as I come from the less-is-more school of descriptive narratives, but the story moves quickly through 295 pages. There is plenty of actual tennis, too, with detailed accounts of matches big and small.

A sneak peek at the first chapter is available at the publisher's website outskirtpress.com.

Please note that buying this book (or anything else from Amazon during the upcoming holiday season) through the link in this post supports zootennis. It is one of the few sources of revenue I have for this site, and I appreciate your support in using Amazon, the Tennis Warehouse or the other shopping options on this page.


Anonymous said...

I buy from Tennis Warehouse all the time and visit their site most days. How do they connect my purchase to this web site? Is it because I go to their page via your link?

Colette Lewis said...

Thanks for asking. Yes, the link on my site identifies that the customer has come from zootennis and I receive a portion of what's purchased once the customer buys via the link. The same goes for Amazon.

Anonymous said...

collete do you have any information on the nashville challenger that levine won? thats his first pro title isnt it?

Anonymous said...

Colette do you know where I can find the movie Unstrung?

Colette Lewis said...

As far as I know, Unstrung has not been released either to theaters or on DVD.

Anonymous said...

They are taking WAY TOO LONG to release this movie. The "where are they now" sequel to the movie is going to need to come out by the time this movie is finally released.