of Match Maker
So, is this what you’d call a tennis novel? Well, yes, and, no. There’s plenty of tennis, true, but in the author’s gifted hands, playing the game of tennis becomes a metaphor for playing the game of life. Match Maker is first and foremost a story about putting your life together – especially putting it back together when it’s been shattered. There’s plenty of tennis excitement, if that’s your thing, and if not, there is also courage, romance, violence – and plenty of occasions for tears. Warning: have some hankies on hand.
As a writer, Alan Chin is a Grand Slam champion. He’s at the top of his game here."
--Victor J. Banis, author of Long Horns, Angel Land and Lola Dances.
Match Maker won the 2011 Rainbow Literary Awards for Best Contemporary Fiction.
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.
The revelation that they were a gay couple forced Daniel Bottega and Jared Stoderling off the professional tennis circuit four years earlier. In the interim, Daniel was marking time as the tennis pro at a quiet country club in San Francisco, while Jared pretty much crawled into a liquor bottle to drown his crushed dreams. When Daniel is approached to train Connor Lin, a promising young prodigy whose tennis game needs focus, he decides to gets Jared involved as well. Besides getting Jared off drinking, it reawakens both of their spirits of competition. Jared goes from just helping Connor workout to being his doubles partner, and both begin to move up the ranks on their singles tournaments.
When the press covering one of the midlevel tournaments gets tipped off about Daniel and Jared's relationship, it results in rumors that Connor is gay as well (He isn't), and the trio experience bias from homophobic judges as well as receiving threats of violence. Determined not to quit again, they continue to compete, supported by good friends and Connor's second generation Chinese-American family. As if the pressure of competition and the homophobia wasn't enough to deal with, all three suffer physical and emotional obstacles that threaten to shatter their dreams.
In a word ... Wow! After reading his previous two novels, I expect outstanding writing from Mr. Chin, but this raises the bar far above any expectations I had. The story will remind you a bit of the gay classic "The Front Runner" in its intensity and "we VS them" conflicts, but I believe the story and characters are even more realistic and relatable here. It's the rare novel you may want to read numerous times, and is a great gift for anyone facing adversity. Beautifully and skillfully done, I give it five match point stars out of five. Bravo!
Review by Amos Lassen
Another Beautiful Story from Alan Chin
I have only recently become an Alan Chin fan, and I am so sorry that it has taken me so long to discover him. His new book, “Match Maker” is a wonderful read with dynamic characters and a fascinating plot line. This is exactly what I have learned to expect from Chin. I do not often sit down to read a book and finish it in the same sitting and but that is exactly what happened here. I also know little about the subject matter, tennis, but I learned a great deal and I feel so much more complete for having read this.
Chin has the ability to build a story that is so real that the reader feels he is a part of what is going on between the covers of the book. The descriptions are vivid, the writing is purely sublime and I felt let yelling “Bravo” when I finished it. Instead, I plan to read it again and this is not something I usually do because I simply do not have the time to do so but more importantly because there are not many books that merit a second reading. “Match Maker” does and I not only plan to do so but I have mapped out my evening so I can do so tonight.
Let’s have a look at the plot. Daniel Bottega was forced off the professional tennis tour because he was gay some four years before the story begins. It, of course, is not easy for him to have to compromise his love for the sport with teaching tennis at a second-rate country club, but Daniel uses his job as a way to hide from a world that considers him abnormal. Daniel is not alone. He has a partner, Jared Stoderling, who has been fighting a losing battle with his addiction to alcohol and this weakness came about because of his lover and himself not being able to play professional tennis. We see that sexuality has affected the lives of both men and affected them deeply.
Just as things were looking bad for both men, Daniel gets a chance to coach a tennis prodigy, Connor Linn, and to train him to win the Grand Slam. He convinces Jared to return to pro tennis as Connor’s doubles partner. The competition is, of course, fierce but more than that is the media attention that Jared and Daniel face. The pro tennis association is not happy and there is a good deal of fallout there but even worse is the hate from the public that not only threatens Daniel and Jared’s love, but Connor’s career and Daniel’s own life. Here I was reminded of Patricia Nell Warren’s “The Front Runner” and the story of Billy Sive, and I mean that as the highest compliment. Chin reminds us once again that no matter how secure we feel today as gay men in a heterosexual society, there are still many out there who hate us and want to see us done away with. We should never take lightly the security that we feel today.
Alan Chin gives us the beautiful relationship between Daniel and Jared and I actually felt the love coming off of the pages of the book. We are also given information about what goes on behind the scenes in the world of tennis and I found this to be particularly interesting since I know nothing about tennis. The book is a tennis romance between two men who are just that—two men who love each other and want to be who they are in a world that does not want them to do so. This is something that should ring true to so many of us and it is interesting to read about it in such beautiful prose and between two such wonderfully drawn characters. This beautiful story is one that will haunt me, and which I will hold close for a very long time. I must thank Alan Chin for giving me the chance to read and enjoy it.
Connor Lin’s eyes grew large as the ball bounced short of the service line and sailed into his strike zone. He drew his racket back while planting his body in perfect balance; his arm swung, shoulders rotated, and his racket arched up through the ball and continued into a follow-through. The ball seemed to shriek from the impact as it sped bullet-fast toward the sideline. It scorched a pale mark on the green court a half-inch from the white line. But once again, it was the half-inch on the far side of the line. The lineman’s hand flew up, and he yelled, “Out.”
Connor dropped his racket and blinked at the mark, obviously not quite believing that he had lost another game.
Sweat dripped from his nose and chin.
He glanced at the chair umpire, attempting to coerce an overrule, but the chair awarded the game to Connor’s opponent.
Connor lifted the flap of his shirt, mopped his face, and bent to pick up his racket.
Watching him from the bleachers, it occurred to me that he must have dreamed about this match for most of his teenaged life. He had begun the first game with all the charisma of a champion poised for a run at brilliance, but the match had mutated into his worst nightmare. No brilliance materialized. Point by point, his entire being shriveled. His confidence and composure evaporated.
There was nothing anyone could do to reverse his downward spiral. I felt his frustration, a searing tightness in my abdomen. I had experienced the same ordeal many times, and even though half a decade had passed since then, I knew precisely how he felt: like a man alone at thirty thousand feet without a parachute. He was playing a quarterfinal match on the show court of an ATP satellite tennis tournament, set within the twisted pine forest between Carmel and the craggy cliffs of Big Sur. Five hundred shrieking, stomping fans packed the bleachers, and the loudest of them was Connor’s father, who sat three rows below me in the players’ section.
Cold fear. It first appeared in Connor’s eyes when he must have realized that, without the help of divine intervention, he would lose to a sixteen-year-old whose groundstrokes resembled a caveman swinging a club. His fear visibly gave birth to hatred, seething, and finally, humiliation. What Connor’s eyes showed eventually revealed itself in his body language. He looked like a pro tennis player—lean, agile body, good legs, coffee-colored hair gathered into a ponytail and covered with a ball-cap turned back to front, and the prettiest almond-shaped eyes I’d ever seen—but his slumped shoulders and marred facial expressions gave him away. He was out of his league, and he knew it.
I mentally listed his technical problems with a practiced eye. He had a decent first serve, but a weak, loopy second serve that my aunt Betsy could wallop for a winner. And when serving a critical point, his toss fell an inch or so shorter than normal, making him hit down on the ball and dump his serve into the net. He scrambled from side to side with the fluid steps that produce great footwork, but he seemed unsure of himself anywhere in front of the baseline, and three volleys hacked into the net and a botched overhead told me why.
Other than that, all his troubles lay between his ears. His problems stemmed from impatience. Instead of working the rallies while waiting for a weak ball to attack, he tried to crush winners from a defensive position. He won enough points to keep him pulling the trigger, but he also sprayed enough balls long, wide, and into the net to lose every game.
Nevertheless, even with his obvious technical and mental issues, he was thrilling to watch. His grace, explosive speed, and physical beauty sent chills up my spine. I was not in love with him. How could I be? I had never even met him. But I loved watching him play.
Connor lost the first set with a bagel, and his father shrieked hysterically. At first, he directed his outburst at Connor, telling the boy how to play, then at the opponent, for not being good enough to be on the same court with his son. The chair umpire notified security on his walkie-talkie, and we all waited while two uniformed men escorted Connor’s father from the bleachers. He screamed obscenities all the way to the parking lot.
Connor sat through the whole scene crouched forward on his bench with a white towel draped over his head. I would have bet fifty bucks that tears were flowing under that towel, but I doubt I would have found any takers.
Connor’s game continued to disintegrate through the second set. After a heated argument with the chair umpire over a questionable line call, he turned to flip the bird at a heckling spectator and received a code of conduct warning for “visible” obscenity. Two games later, another out call had him tomahawking his racket and unleashing a screech. It was a sound of pure anguish. I could only shake my head and watch as that temperamental athlete, with the sublime groundstrokes of a top-ten player, suffered a mental meltdown in public view.
I longed to cradle him in my arms and explain that it was only a game, that it should be fun. I wanted him to know that he didn’t need to battle against the pressures that the world threw at him, but he was in no condition to listen to anybody, least of all a has-been like me.
In Connor’s last service game, while he waited for his opponent to step to the baseline, he glanced into the stands. We made eye contact for a dozen seconds, and he looked right through me, as if to say, “Fuck you, you know-it-all bastard. At least I’m down here, still in the fight. What the fuck are you doing?” I saw something flicker deep within those beautiful eyes, something more than defiant pride. Or maybe I just chose to see. Even though his emotions had run away with him, I saw his courage as clearly as if he were holding up his heart like a metal shield.
I sucked in my breath and held it until he looked away.