Serve-And-Volley Near Vichy by Greg Jackson, 2014
The magic trick:
Extending the narrator’s memory of Leo Descoteaux’s US Open tennis match over the whole of the story as a metaphor
This is just the kind of story a terrified/insecure/aspiring writer should read. It’s good. It’s definitely good. In some aspects, it’s very good. But it is also very obviously imperfect. There are clunky sentences, inconsistent characterizations, literary devices that appear to be working very hard to create their desired effect. In short, you my friend can write like this with a little work, I just know it. And it’s an award-winner. This is a very well-regarded short story. And you can do this! It’s not impossible!
Anyway, as for the story itself… As I said, there are some aspects that are very effective here. Crucially, we have the narrator’s memory of Leo Descoteaux’s US Open loss. He sets it up as this grand battle of finesse vs. brute strength, a rare moment when one’s potential is actually met. If it seems like an awfully strange memory to carry around with you for 10 years, I agree, I’m with you. As I also said, this is an imperfect story. But nevertheless, Jackson does some interesting things with this memory over the course of the story.
I’d argue that the narrator’s approach to the weekend visit in France is a repeat of the US Open match, with himself playing the role of brute strength and Leon again taking up for finesse. The narrator is unimaginative in his assessments of the scene, and very surface-deep in his interactions. Leo, meanwhile, appears to be operating three moves ahead or playing a different social game entirely. He is outthinking the world to the point of existential crisis.
It’s a lot for the reader to consider. I’m not sure the connecting lines create a complete picture. But the sheer attempt at microcosm and metaphor is impressive to explore. And that’s quite a trick on Jackson’s part.
When we got back in the early evening Léo had already started on dinner. He kissed Marion when she came in, and Vicky and I raised our eyebrows at each other. Marion blushed and played affectionately with his hair. The look in her eyes, however, is not one I have forgotten. It was the look you might give the ghost of a child you knew to be dead.
“I have watched your tape,” Léo told me, when Vicky and Marion had left us to the dishes. He dried his hands on a dishrag and hugged me. He gave me a kiss on each cheek. “It was beautiful,” he said. “Now we can be friends.”