The Tennis Partner describes the autobiographical story of the friendship between Verghese and one of his medical students in El Paso, Texas, in the early 1990s.
When David Smith met Dr. Verghese, he was a medical student trying to finish his degree and obtaining an internship, but before he started his studies he was a tennis player on the college tour. Verghese had always been a keen tennis player but had not had much time to play. When the two men discovered their shared interest they started playing together and developed a friendship.
Of course, the first thing I was drawn to was the tennis aspect of the book. However, that turned out to be the most boring part. Verghese is obsessed with keeping notes of every aspect of his game and that of any player he has ever watched. This was really boring. I love tennis, but really don’t care about the commentary on someone else’s game.
What was interesting, tho, was the description of the differences between the two men. In particular the description of their day-to-day lives. How David is struggling to make ends meet as a med student who is subjected to long hours, long commutes, and additional issues that range from trying to keep up a long-distance relationship to being a recovering drug addict.
Verghese is going through a separation at the time he meets Smith, but has an established career and a relatively stable life.
The friendship between them seems unlikely but at the same time also seems to be genuine and reciprocated by both men.
Of course, as the story goes on, Verghese reveals that not all was at it seemed at the start.
I also enjoyed Verghese’s writing about medicine and medical conditions, but sometimes he meandered into adding his own spin on issues – particularly his vast experience in treating patients with AIDS-related illnesses – that seem rather judgmental when viewed from a present-day perspective. Of course, I have no doubt many of his patients were drug users, prostitutes, and gay men, but some of the descriptions seemed rather stereotypical. There was just something a little bit grating about the narration that made the author seem a little bit arrogant, even though the end of the story clearly shows that he was a fallible as anyone else.
All in all, it was an interesting book but I think I’ll pass on his other book, Cutting for Stone.