Anton Stratis is a 14-year-old tennis prodigy from Main Line Philadelphia who can smash a 100 mph serve and beat college guys handily. He’s so good that becoming No. 1 in the world seems no mere pipe dream. Great, right?
Not so fast. Anton has the tennis dad from hell in Trophy Son (St. Martin’s Press, *** out of four, 276 pp.), Douglas Brunt’s breezy coming-of-age novel.
Anton, who narrates this tale, pretty much gets our sympathy from the first page: “A tennis racket lurks in my earliest memories like a sick relative who had come to live with us.”
Our young hero has talent out the wazoo, but he’s a walking existential crisis. Unhappy, conflicted about tennis, bullied by his father and friendless because he dropped out of eighth grade (he has a private tutor), Anton, a big reader, identifies with David Copperfield. Can he find a way to be a hero in his own story, and take control of his life?
We root for Anton even when he disappoints us. And we can’t abide his father, a former Olympic swimmer (who never medaled) and retired hedge-fund millionaire who has channeled all his energy and rage into his son. In one unforgettable scene, Dad refuses to let Anton drink water on a sweltering day as he hits hundreds of balls on their private court.
A good-looking kid (the family lineage is Greek), Anton finally gets a girlfriend, who breaks his heart. A few years along his tennis journey to the top, he meets a beautiful actress, Ana. Can she save him?
After Anton begins losing, Dad finally has to step aside and make way for a new coach, Gabe Sanchez, a former player. There’s a sports psychologist who’s hired but doesn’t help much, and a trainer who does — by offering Anton the candy jar, performance-enhancing drugs — when he turns 18.
Everybody does it, he’s told. “Do a Web search on ‘Tennis has a steroid problem,’ ” Bobby, the trainer, tells Anton. If he wants to win Wimbledon, this apparently is what it will take. Really? (The International Tennis Federation is not going to love this book.)
This is the third novel by Brunt, who’s married to NBC’s Megyn Kelly. His literary game has strengths and weaknesses. He’s a pro at making us…