I have been reading two more books by Lionel Shriver, whose We Need to Talk about Kevin is one of the best fiction works I read last year. It is not overly literary fiction, and it’s definitely not chick lit – I wonder if there is enough of a market in there, where as an author you don’t have your ego boosted by winning Pulitzers and you don’t have your bank account lifted by selling like Stephen King. But it is fiction I enjoy, and that’s why I recommend it to you.
Double Fault is a tennis drama. It starts out as your standard dual-career couple story, set in the world of pro tennis, and veers vertiginously into Greek tragedy. If you have a spouse in a field of work even remotely related to yours, and at times your career has stalled while your partner’s has taken off — even if you’ve been hell-bent on making it since you were five years old, while he seems to effortlessly glide into success while caring much less than you do — this book will make the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It is a gloomy tale, and one that offers no solutions.
The Post-Birthday World starts out as your standard “sliding doors” comedy, with the protagonist, a children’s books illustrator, faced with a choice, and then her resulting two lives unfolding in parallel, chapter by chapter, each with its own surprises and its own delights (I particularly enjoyed the author’s subtlety in having her creative process influenced by events from life outside the studio). Yet, each of these two lives will run into bitterness and disappointment, as both the loving and dependable foreign policy expert in one life and the charming and sexy snooker pro in the other life ultimately let her down.
There is a thread running through the female characters in these books: Eva Khatchadourian in Kevin, Wilhemena “Willy” Novinsky in Double Fault, and Irina McGovern in The Post-Birthday World all tell us that, as a rule in life, no matter how hard you try, the best you can is not good enough. Shriver seems to have elevated to a worldview the famous comment by Enoch Powell in his biography of Joseph Chamberlain: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs [emphasis mine].”
Any uplifting evidence to the contrary, dear readers, will be welcome.