Doubles, a first novel by Nic Brown, may be one of this summer’s best reads. It contains all the elements guaranteed to drag a reader in: an intriguing opening; brilliant pacing; quirky characters and strong visuals. The story of an insular circle of five friends, at its heart is the relationship between two tennis players. Kaz & Slow have been doubles partners since they were six years old.
Slow Smith is the book’s protagonist and narrator. In the first chapter (which, by the way, I loved) we learn that he has spent the last five months in what amounts to an emotional fugue state – paralyzed by guilt over the automobile accident which put his wife, Anne, into a coma. He’s given up tennis and divides his life between a desk job and the hospital. Every day he takes a Polaroid of Anne, continuing the visual diary she’d started before their marriage. When his old coach shows up to convince him it’s time to play again, Slow is ready for something to happen. What follows is a strange (and strangely touching) story of family, friendship, betrayal and love.
Which, let’s face it, is pretty cliché. Films like Garden State and St. Elmo’s Fire have explored these themes before. But while Doubles does cover a lot of the same ground, Brown does it in such a sweet and funny way that it’s hard to stop reading. Sure there’s a love triangle, but he connects all the points and gives them equal weight. Not all love is romantic. No one is entirely good or bad. And secrets aren’t necessarily meant to be kept secret. While there are times when it risks crossing into melodrama, Doubles includes flashes of offbeat humor that save the narrative from becoming weighed down by a sense of its own importance. There were passages that left a huge grin on my face (the same reaction I have to Wes Anderson films).
Brown has created a cast of fully realized characters, any one of whom could carry their own novel. Manny, Slow & Kaz’s hedonistic coach who always seems to know the right thing to do (regardless of whether or not it seems right in the moment). His beautiful and troubling wife, Katie. Anne – who has moments of solidity, but for most of the novel I felt remained an enigma. Best of all is the friendship between Kaz & Slow, which will warm your heart and then break it over and over again.
If I were to have one complaint about Doubles it would be that the story progresses too quickly, cutting so fast that the reader is on to the next scene before they’ve had a chance to absorb what happened in the last. This book reads like a movie, complete with visuals that feel like storyboards. There were times when I wanted more character development, more in-depth probing, more peeks beneath the surface. Usually I’m the one shouting “where was the editor??” Here, 227 pages didn’t feel like enough.
Yet in the end I realized it was. Doubles is perfectly encapsulated in the way of well written short stories (or a good film). There’s something beautifully awkward about Nic Brown’s first novel. Slow, Kaz and company may be a flawed group, but I found them to be a likable one. And definitely unforgettable.
Publisher: Counterpoint Press, California & New York. (2010)
ISBN: 978 1 58 243507 7
Note: Official release is in July, 2010 – though Amazon seems to have copies available now.