In the four years since being forced off the professional tour for being gay, Daniel Bottega has taught tennis at a second-rate country club. He found a sanctuary to hide from an unkind world, while his lover, Jared Stoderling, fought a losing battle with alcohol addiction to cope with his disappointment of not playing on the pro circuit.
Now Daniel has another chance at the tour by coaching tennis prodigy Connor Lin to a Grand Slam championship win. He shares his chance with Jared by convincing him to return to the pro circuit as Connor’s doubles partner.
Competing on the world tour is challenging enough, but Daniel and Jared also face major media attention, political fallout from the pro association, and a shocking amount of hate that threatens Connor’s career in tennis, Jared’s love for Daniel, and Daniel’s very life.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have mixed feelings about Match Maker. To start with the first half of the book, if not more, reads like a book about tennis from a coach’s perspective. The coach happens to be gay but that’s not that important except for the discrimination that is openly practiced within the sport. The second half of the book deals more with emotion and relationships between all the characters in the pretty large cast. On the one hand, the writing is utterly superb; beautifully written with some incredible turns of phrase and crisp, clean writing that makes the story enjoyable to read. On the flip side, the characters are universally unlikable and though they all redeem themselves by the end, it’s difficult to get through the entire story to find redemption.
The story is about Daniel, a tennis coach who gave up his dream of playing to support his best friend and lover Jared. The two men have been together since they were teenagers and Daniel accepts that Jared is the love of his life and Daniel will never leave him no matter what happens. Jared was a pro player until he and Daniel were run out of the sport for being gay. Now bitter and angry, Jared drinks himself to sleep every night, ignores Daniel and pretty much waits to die. Daniel gets a second chance at the sport when an up and coming Chinese player, Connor, wants Daniel to coach him. Daniel tries to give Jared a second shot at the pro circuit by coaching both men. Of course life isn’t that easy and a devastating event threatens all of their lives.
The story is incredibly written with the kind of minimal prose that manages to convey beautiful descriptions without being wordy and boring. The descriptions are crisp, clean, and so vivid you can easily feel, touch, and taste the scenes. The author’s knowledge of tennis is intense and unending as so the main character of the story is really the sport itself. The action all takes place surrounding tennis. The on page scenes deal with training, practicing, performing, winning, losing, and various conversations about such in very minute detail. I didn’t have a problem with this but it’s very much a tennis story first and foremost.
About halfway through the story changes to something more emotional when a “tragic action” occurs. I don’t want to give any spoilers but the focus shifts from tennis, slightly but not fully, onto the characters. Here the most depth is given to Jared and Daniel’s relationship. There are too many holes though as Daniel recounts problems in the relationship but won’t say what. Clearly Jared’s drinking has to be an issue but it’s almost ignored and disappears once Jared starts playing tennis again. Due to this there is an emotional distance and disconnect for a good majority of the story. Daniel feels too even tempered and too unemotional. He recounts the tennis match details with more passion than he does his love for Jared. The later is just accepted and any pain associated with that unimportant. Thus Daniel’s pain and hardship were hard to care about, since Daniel himself doesn’t seem to care.
Later on this does change but even the tremendous pain and suffering Daniel must go through feel rushed and distant. There isn’t the emotional intensity that I would associate with the actions that occurred. The story never fails to be well written but fails to convey that deep connection and intensity that have you feeling for the character and rooting for them. Daniel and Jared do get more romantic and Jared redeems himself well towards the end but he spends much of his story arc unresponsive and elusive. He’s unfortunately a rather unlikable character for 90% of the book and Daniel’s constant excuses for Jared don’t help either. In fact Daniel even counsels Connor to ignore if Connor’s girlfriend cheats on him and instead win the tennis tournament since the girlfriend will want to be with a winner. Um.. yea I just wasn’t with Daniel’s character for most of the book.
I definitely felt more negative before the last part of the book in Spain, when the characters all finally seem human. This starts a turn in the book when it becomes more intimate and the tennis game is a backdrop instead of the focus. This also helps the various members of the cast grow and mature with more intensity. The entire cast, which is pretty large, makes numerous mistakes but they are all filtered through Daniel’s narration. Daniel is sadly very blind to a lot of things so it’s hard to accept his excuses and explanations. Daniel is likely to always stay the way he is at the end, with his self worth wrapped up in Jared and blind to the faults of those around him. Yet he’s still a hopeful guy and yea I guess I was rooting for him at the end. Either way Match Maker is an incredibly well written book with a focus on an interesting game so I enjoyed it. I wish there had been more intensity and connection but that could change with each reader.
Get it HERE!