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"Savannah Perspectives," by Matt Propst


by Nic Brown


Doubles tells the story of Slow Smith, an almost–famous tennis player, whose wife, Anne, is in a coma. Seeking reprieve from his predicament, Slow accepts an invitation from his old coach, Manny, to leave Chapel Hill — where Anne lay sleeping — and resume the career he put on hold.

The catch is that Slow plays doubles. In order to make his comeback, he needs to reunite with Kaz, his childhood friend and former tennis partner. Kaz, like Manny, lives in New York City. So the coach and his player head North on I–95 to find him.

When Slow steps out of the Fiat convertible in Manhattan, he learns that Manny has coordinated a meeting with Kaz to break the ice: a night of GHB, slow–dancing and strippers in the back of a rundown Upper West Side storefront. It is only in the wake of the debauchery that Manny tells Kaz about the comeback. Nevertheless, the old pair do play as a team, and they do win the tournament. But their success does little to resolve the tension that has been brewing between them since Slow jumped ship.

That the victory does so little to settle the tension demonstrates that — in spite of its connotative title — tennis is tangential to Doubles. There are only three matches portrayed, all distilled to a few pages in length. Nic Brown mostly sidesteps the match psychology of the players, except so far as it offers a side of comic value to the reader.
For example, when Kaz blames a mid–game slump on Slow forgetting to eat a banana, Slow requests an emergency washroom break, and runs to grab the yellow fruit from the club bar.

He eats it; they win.

It is not only the omission of tournament cutscenes that ferries Doubles away from tennis. Neither Kaz nor Slow appear to show much love for tennis in the first place — certainly not anything beyond the nebulous pursuit of a higher ranking. And then there is the dubious issue of how our balding protagonist and his partner could beat a top–ranked American pair without having played together in over a dozen months.

This dearth of detail need not concern us. While Doubles would be a lousy first stab at sports fiction, it promotes our affections in being about something much deeper than tennis.

Its heartwood is exposed as the characters deal with the complex fallout when Slow discovers that one of his closest friends has wronged him. The complications unfold from here. It turns out that almost every combination of people in Slow’s friendship circle — Manny, his lover Katie, Anne, Kaz — has a history that threatens the stability of their relationships therein.

What holds our interest is the manner in which the characters in troubled relationships dispel the tension generated by their unwholesome past. They deal with it in one of two extremes: by harbouring contempt, or by forgetting the past. Either they choose to remember the nefarious incident and abandon their challenged relationship, or they choose to forget the past and preserve their relationship as they always have.

This novel resonates with us long after we put it down. But not in the sense in which a good book might involuntarily conjure up beautiful episodes and imaginary worlds once we are through with it. Rather, the strength of Doubles is that it leaves us asking a number of potent ethical questions. Are there times when forgetting the past is not only convenient but what we ought to do? When a friend offends us, why compromise the valued relationship by sounding the alarms of moral judgment? Isn’t it better — and easier — to just forgive them?

The melancholic impasse we face at the end of Doubles steers these questions back toward us. However unhappy Slow is for being unable to forget, it is difficult to see how we would have chosen to deal with his adversity any differently. 

For the hurt we remember — the hurt we are unable to forget — is always delivered by the ones we love the most.  — Emilio Reyes Le Blanc

Savannah Perspectives

By Matt Propst


Locally-based photographer Propst follows up his Savannah Cemeteries book, also published by Schiffer, with a more general but still worthwhile tome, Savannah Perspectives.

As the title indicates, this is a somewhat less educationally oriented book than the first one, and is more oriented toward composition and color. While many of the usual postcard shots are featured - looking up at Gen. Oglethorpe's statue in Chippewa Square, the iconic Wormsloe entrance - Propst includes some lesser-traveled spots such as Fort Jackson and the King-Tisdell Cottage (unfortunately called "King-Tisdale" in the caption).

Propst in particular has quite an eye for Savannah's squares, which are actually quite challenging to photograph. Despite the apparent lush beauty of our squares to the naked eye, a camera tends to become confused by the huge gradation in light and shadow present in almost all these heavily-canopied landmarks.

The result in lesser hands is usually a muddy mess, but Propst expertly captures this chiaroscuro in all its green-hued glory.

In all, this is a sharp-looking yet inexpensive gift idea for those who want a keepsake of Savannah, as well as a quick and informative photographic guide for those who live in Savannah and want to learn more about it. -- Jim Morekis