The Tennis Partner
The Tennis Partner tells an inspiring and illuminating tale of how man lives and survives- from the acclaimed New York Times Bestselling Author, Cutting for Stone.
Abraham Verghese, a doctor whose marriage is unraveling, moves to El Paso, Texas, to work at the county hospital. He meets David Smith, a recovering drug user, and medical student. The two men begin a tennis ritual that allows them to let go of their inhibitions and find stability in the sport they like as well as in one other. This doctor-intern bond becomes richer and more complex, more intimate than two men generally allow. Just when it appears as if nothing can go wrong, the dark beast from David’s past reappears, threatening practically everything Verghese has grown to trust and believe in as David spirals out of control.
“Heartbreaking. . . . Indelible and haunting, [The Tennis Partner] is an elegy to friendship found, and an ode to a good friend lost.” — The Boston Globe
Specifications of The Tennis Partner
- Dimenssions: 5.31 x 0.83 x 8 inches
- Number of Pages: 368 Pages
- Date of Publication: September 20, 2011
- Idiom: English
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John P. Jones III –
I’ve read both of Abraham Verghese’s other works:
Cutting for Stone
My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story
. I’ve given both my special “6-star” rating for superlative works. Could he do it a third time, and in an area that is my adopted home, the deserts of the American Southwest? I decided not to ponder the question long, for there was an additional special pull: the compelling weekly tennis game.Verghese provides loving descriptions of the diverse places he has inhabited on this good earth, from the eucalyptus trees perfuming the high African city of Addis Abba, to the lush green wooded hills and dales of eastern Tennessee that he has declared to be his home, but one that he would depart for professional reasons, to settle for a piece in El Paso, Texas, and find a lovely tennis court, high on a hill, just north of the city, where he could look across the Rio Grande at night, and observe the twinkling lights of one of the most violent cities on earth, Juarez, Mexico.Verghese is a medical doctor, and his novels so accurately depict the medical field, to those who have partaken. He is a “lowly” internist, as he would wryly note in “My Own Country,” at least in terms of financial remuneration. Like Chekhov, and a few others, the internists are the observers, always noting skin hues, abnormalities, a slight puffiness here and there, even in their friends, socially. The good ones can also observe the heart and soul. In Verghese’s own words: “My Luddite streak was aroused. Would that I could wave a wand and bring back a simple pedal bike, bring back wooden rackets, bring back doctors who didn’t need batteries of blood test to diagnose conditions that were staring them in the face, bring back…”No need for a “spoiler alert.” The “medical outcome” is in the dedication: “In memory of David Smith, M.D, 1959-1994.” Verghese and Smith balance their strengths and weaknesses. Verghese is now an accomplished doctor, based on his work in east Tennessee. Smith is the resident, still learning. Smith is also a very good tennis player, once out there on some loop of the semi-professionals. Verghese is aspiring, still learning. Smith accepts him on the Court, and Verghese accepts him on the medical rounds. Smith is Australian, and on a bit of a different career trajectory. And he has a “secret” that much of the hospital knows, and Verghese is late to discover: a history of opioid drug addiction. But all that is now safely in the past… or is it? As is well-known, on a percentage basis, those who work in the medical field are more likely to abuse drugs for two straightforward reasons: ease of access, and the pressure of always having to “get it right,” or, as the expression has it, you bury your mistakes. And it is the Emergency Room that is the worse place to work. Hum.This work touched me personally more than the other two. I once worked in a vast open-air Emergency Room for a year. A fellow medic was addicted to the morphine we carried, and would shoot up all of his, and anyone else’s he could grab. And if a soldier was wounded, he would use Thorazine instead. A shudder from those who know the real implications of that. And what do you do about it? What is fair and reasonable for him, as well as the men in his unit? Turning him in, and he gets a one-way ticket to LBJ (Long Binh Jail), and the unit has no medic. Is an addicted medic better than none at all? It was a difficult call I did not have to make. But when Verghese wrote of his own rationalizations, the cover-ups, the “just one more chance…” I was right along, on edge the whole way.Far more pleasantly, there were my own tennis games, with a medical doctor, who was NOT an addict. Neither of us were anywhere near the tennis league of Smith, nor even Verghese. But it was a lot of fun. The ritual, the passion, the wonderful exhaustion experienced thereafter, when two players are so evenly matched in their ineptitude. Every Tuesday night, a weekly highlight. Certainly it would be uncharitable to bring up my partner’s dyslexic line calls…And then there is the matter of my son’s long-term girlfriend, now finishing her third year of med school. We talk books over dinners, and this is the one she really wants to read. Bravo. But I really think it should be in the “core curriculum” of any medical school.As a final point, Verghese would do the same as he did in east Tennessee; he’d visit his patients outside the hospital setting, and in this case, it meant walking along the Rio Grande, looking in the bushes, for his partner who once was on the other side of the net. Empathy, and more than a bit of courage. I complete the three works with another 6-star determination, and realize that Abraham Verghese is the only author I have read who has received that determination for every work. May there be a fourth.
I was drawn to this because I so admired Verghese’s novel Cutting for Stone. This non-fiction work is equally fine but more disturbing since it is the story of a talented doctor and former tennis player who is also an addict. It has the texture of a novel although it is a true story; Verghese is a master writer. The discussion of the careers of players like Lendl, Courier, and others is spot on–I wonder if the book would have the same impact on someone who doesn’t follow tennis. But I can’t imagine not being moved by the portrait of the man and his relationship with the author.
Y. Chao –
We often hear plenty stories of the relationship between doctors and patients yet this is an excellent reading on the not as much talked about and revealed relationship between physicians. Yet just like any stories on relationships, it’s about being persons and how we stumble or triumph in relating to, empathizing, and being humans with each other. The prose is beautiful, the author has a great gift in seeing and writing about his insights, thoughts, sentiments, and his surroundings in intelligent and beautiful ways, and best of all, he’s a great story teller that makes non fictional events/materials great stories.
Carol C. Bungert –
Abraham Verghese gives us more than a story about the deep bond between two men learning from each other. He splays open his heart and speaks from the very essence of his soul. It is rare to find such unflinching honesty and self disclosure from a man of his professional standing. Revealing an intensely personal time as he doubts himself and his choices, and faces his limitations, he allows us an intimate view into his journey for self discovery. Parts of the book give far more details on tennis than most readers would care to know. However, this aspergerish focus on details allows us to appreciate his exquisite abilities of observation as a diagnostician, compassionate doctor, passionate teacher, and lover of life. As we experience the beauty and pain of his primary relationships, his greatest strengths become his weakness as well. Sometimes getting lost in the details he misses the larger understanding and context of what is actually developing. His charm is being willing to disclose his shortcomings and learn from them. This is the third book I have read by Dr. Verghese. His fictional “Cutting for Stone” is a remarkable bestseller. “My Own Country” and “The Tennis Partner” are more autobiographical and utterly captivating. Abraham Verghese blesses our world by the stories he shares, his devotion to his work as a doctor and teacher, and by his very love of life. I can hardly wait for his next book…I hope he is writing one!
Stephanie Manley –
This is the story of ending relationships, and begining new ones. Verghese is embroiled in the breakup of his marriage, as he meets a student who turns out to be his tennis partner. This is a heartbreaking story in so many ways. The dissolvment of the marriage, creating a new life, and the pain friendships can sometime cause. His friend is a recoving drug addict that doesn’t have the smoothest path to recovery.Verghese’s writting style is once again beautiful. Painfully honest revealing things about himself that so few of us are willing to do. You feel that you are in a long coversation with him as you read this book. He sets up chapters in this book with scenes in tennis matches and various quotes. These introductions serve as a setup for his narration, preparing you for the story that is about to unfold. Yet it is peppered with wonderful passages of humor.Many feel this a wonderful book describing the friendship of two men. I think it fits a category much broader than that. All people have had friendships that have undergone the good times as well as the pain, maybe it is refreshing to hear a man speak to openly and honestly about his friendship with another man. I highly recommend this book. Endings, beginings, it is what life is all about. It is very refreshing to have someone be so open with their life. A definate must read!
Baja Kathy –
Abraham Verghese’s writing connects the reader so firmly with his characters that, upon waking the day after finishing “The Tennis Partner,” the reader wants to pick up the phone to find out what his characters have planned for the day. I felt a similar connection to the characters of Verghese’s wonderful book, “Cutting for Stone.”The secondary theme of “The Tennis Partner” is Verghese’s finesse as a doctor of internal medicine, primarily because of his amazing intuitive abilities and emotional intelligence. The stories of his patients and his care for them are educational and heartwarming. But for me, the primary missives of the book were:1) Deep interpersonal relationships can be incredibly rewarding and help one progress through difficult times (e.g., Verghese’s family issues, David’s attempts to stay sober). But they can also be very painful, particularly if one’s expectations for the other person are unreasonable (see below).2) No matter how much you love someone, you can’t save him/her from himself/herself;and, most important,3) Addiction recovery programs (Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, and the Talbott-Marsh Recovery Center) failed David, not because he didn’t attend A.A. or N.A. meetings frequently enough or stay long enough at Talbott-Marsh. They failed, as they have millions of other addicts, because their success criteria are ridiculously irresponsible, applauding only the symptom–the ability to stay sober or off drugs–rather than emotional sobriety–the identification of, and attempt to relinquish (or at least minimize) the toxic beliefs and/or behaviors that led to the addiction.Steps 4 and 10 of AA’s Twelve Steps recommend a “personal inventory,” and A.A. encourages correction of character defects toward adopting a new way of life. But A.A. members are to accomplish these difficult goals without professional help such as concomitant therapy to treat the root of the addiction (see Scientific American “Does Alcoholics Anonymous work” May 2011). One of A.A.’s Twelve Traditions is “The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking,” while a commitment toward attaining emotional sobriety is necessary if the addict wishes to recover completely, to treat his/her loved ones better than he/she did as an addict, as well as to confront and to attempt to slay the beliefs and behaviors that led to the addiction. Complete recovery, however, may never be possible, if the cause for the addiction is years of emotional abuse, as in David’s case (see below). The feeling of inadequacy resides as an emotion in the limbic system, which Verghese discusses as the root of his olfactory diagnostic capabilities yet fails to recognizeas a dominant driver in David’s addiction.David’s relapses into drug use were triggered by his deep-seated self-loathing, which never diminished despite frequent attendance at N.A. and A.A. meetings, and months at Talbott-Marsh (I apologize for the non sequitur, but if you google “Talbott-Marsh” you’ll find eye-opening accounts of patient abuse at Talbott-Marsh and successful lawsuits against the clinic).Verghese never directly implicates David’s parents, though in “The Tennis Partner” Acknowledgements, only thanks David’s sisters. It’s obvious to the reader, however, from David’s phone call to his parents Verghese overhears, the message David received from his parents for decades was that he was just not good enough. David’s feelings of inadequacy would likely haunt him for the rest of his life, yet his N.A. sponsor, his friend (Verghese), and the chief of his recovery at Talbott-Marsh expect him to simply reject drugs and become a successful doctor. Verghese’s emotionally intelligence with his patients was sorely lacking in his feelings for his dear friend David.Verghese and Talbott vetoed David’s dream for emergency medicine and instead recommended internal medicine (the reader wonders whether David begins to feel Verghese is treating him as did his father, e.g., “your dream is not good enough, follow mine”) because the adrenaline rush provided by E.R. work is too similar to cocaine, David’s drug of choice. Yet thousands of “recovered” addicts have simply switched addictions, from alcohol or drugs to, for example, the endorphins of extreme exercise, or to workaholism. Verghese took personally David’s expressed hatred for internal medicine. But it’s apparent to the reader that David’s psyche required daily affirmations about his abilities, which he’d receive from pulling patients from the brink of death, and that he lacked the patience required by an internist to wait for sometimes weeks until his patient is cured. Verghese couldn’t understand that and felt that E.R. medicine would be like “walking out in the middle of a movie.”No one other than David can be blamed for his failure at sobriety and for his ultimate suicide. But I wonder, since it’s unlikely David could have ever entirely silenced the derogatory broken-record in his brain, if he’d be alive today had he been allowed to become an E.R. physician.
ginger forbes –
I read Cutting for Stone and fell in love with this author. The Tennis Partner is a bit of a thriller (caught my attention in first chapter) but the subject matter of the story is near and dear to my heart. I’ve lost a person thru addiction and it’s heartbreaking…. Although I couldn’t understand how Dr. Verghes didn’t see the “signs” before it was too late. Worth the read.
After reading “Cutting For Stone” which I have placed among the very best books I have ever read, I have been seeking further works by Verghese.I chose The Tennis Partner because the blurb caught my interest.It was not until I began the book did I realise The Tennis Player was indeed a memoir, and not a novel as I prefer. Nonetheless, from the first page this book held me and when I had read the last page I held it against my chest and wept. It is a beautiful book from a compassionate and intelligent man who has the ability to deliver his characters to you in such a way you feel you know them. David, the main character, is a charming, lovable and talented medical student who forms a friendship with Dr Verghese through their shared passion for the game of tennis. As the story progresses we are introduced to David’s demons and Verghese’s inner feelings of anger and frustration alternating with the concern he feels for his friend, and his continued support despite warnings from those who had given up on David.This book touched me from a personal perspective as I have experienced in my own life the loss of a beautiful young man, also called David and I have worked throughout my life as a clinical nurse in Intensive Care so I understand the workings of hospital life. I believe The Tennis Partner should be recommended reading for students of nursing and medicine as it would allow more understanding of drug addiction and the horrific circumstances that surround this disease. Too often, the “drug addict” is depicted as drop kicks of our society who come from “bad homes” or “criminal backgrounds” and “deserve everything coming to them.” I urge everyone to read this touching book, and thankyou Dr Verghese for once again giving me such a wonderful read. You are a genius in many ways.
Ken Stofft –
With his skill at expressing vulnerabilities, fears, and the whole spectrum of emotions, Verghese certainly has captured the addict’s mind and underlying foundations of his addiction. This was a hard one for me to get through due to my addictive past. I could feel the past shame arise within me as Verghese renders his subjects apart, exposes his own naivete, and touches the heart of the matter and me as the reader.Every doctor should be reading this book. When I worked at the teaching hospital in Richmond, the doctors would treat the addicted patients like dirt, some of them lecturing them about a subject that they had no clue about, and others just shunning them as much as they could. Verghese has done his homework, and once again expresses superbly the role of a “healer”, the role of a physician, and lucky the medical student who has him as his/her teacher/mentor.