THE BROWSER: "The Engagements,’’ by J. Courtney Sullivan, and "The Outsider,’’ by Jimmy Connors.
- June 24, 2013 - 4:32 PM
By J. Courtney Sullivan. (Alfred A. Knopf, 383 pages, $26.95.)
Any one of the five stories of “The Engagements” could have been a novel in itself. Taken together, though, they rather brilliantly represent different facets of marriage — and not always the bright and shiny ones. Sullivan’s captivating novel weaves together the stories of a struggling paramedic, a betrayed lover, a woman opposed to marriage, and a woman opposed to divorce. They are bound by a fifth tale: the true story of Frances Gerety, the advertising writer who came up with the phrase “A diamond is forever” in the 1940s and then continued to polish the ad campaign as times changed. It’s a clever structure, this blend of fact and fiction, diamonds winking from each narrative. Sullivan’s writing is smooth as she takes the reader back and forth in time and in and out of relationships; by the end, you understand, as one character notes, that marriages can come and go, and it’s only the diamond that lasts.
The Outsider: A Memoir
By Jimmy Connors. (HarperCollins, 401 pages, $28.99.)
Jimmy Connors writes like he played tennis: brash, defensive and with no apologies. The former No. 1 player doesn’t seem to understand that his bad-boy antics of yesteryear pale in comparison to crude language and acts that have since permeated contemporary sports. It’s not that we don’t remember the temper tantrums; it’s that we no longer care. When Connors takes a break from railing against his imaginary images, he actually manages to put together a fairly entertaining behind-the-scenes look at his career, from his engagement to America’s sweetheart, Chris Evert, to his after-hours antics with Ilie Nastase. He doesn’t hesitate to paint himself as a mama’s boy, heaping praise on Gloria Connors, one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes forces the game has ever had. He’s also fairly candid about his obsessive-compulsive disorder and interest in gambling (but don’t call it an addiction, buddy!).
What Connors doesn’t do as well, surprisingly, is help readers feel like they’re on the court. Connors’ descriptions of some of his finest moments are about as riveting as a box score. He could have used a doubles partner — a professional writer to sit by his side and help him bring some of the prose to life. But that would mean another person helping to call the shots, something Connors still appears reluctant to do.
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