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Barry Hannah: The Tennis Handsome

If you have read Ray, you will know what to expect from this book. Vietnam vet who is still affected by his experiences, mad doctor who cares for the down and out and, of course, the Southern eccentrics. Of course, there is no real plot but everything seems to happen at lightning speed, leaving you somewhat bewildered, as we move from people marrying on a whim to the Vietnam vet’s girlfriend (who is also his aunt) being raped by a walrus to the mad doctor being held hostage by river people. Hannah is full of inventiveness as we rush from one strange scene to another, all of it revolving around the tennis handsome, French Edward.

French is beautiful to behold – both for men and women – and also a great tennis player, winning matches he shouldn’t, even into his forties. He has two major life changes. In the first, he falls from a bridge, is nearly drowned and breaks a leg. The result is that his mind is impaired and he starts writing appalling poetry. Indeed, he becomes obsessed with his own talents as a poet. When he is struck by lightning and becomes more or less normal, he loses his dubious talents as a poet and tries to get himself electrocuted to regain them. There are three other key characters. Firstly, there is the Vietnam vet, younger than the others, who is fairly sane, but who has a failed affair with his aunt. Then there is Baby Levaster who is both a doctor and French’s manager. He has an affair with French’s mother, Olive, as does the fourth character, the gay Jimmy Word, who temporarily loses his homosexuality when he sees Olive. French’s father is oblivious to what is happening with his wife. The four are all from Vicksburg and all are both attached to Vicksburg but eager to escape it. If you enjoy fast, madcap adventures by Southern eccentrics, you will enjoy this book.

Publishing history

First published 1983 by Knopf