Excerpt from The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Maze at Windermere

by Gregory Blake Smith

The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith X
The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith
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  • Published:
    Jan 2018, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Print Excerpt

Summer 2011

He was trying to explain to her how he'd gotten to be where he was. The condition he was in. His state of mind, the state of his bank account. His heart, his soul, whatever. They were in the Orangery at Windermere, Aisha newly naked beside him, the salt air coming in through the window, and this was the sort of moment when he somehow felt compelled to tell all.

What had gotten under his skin, he found himself saying, was the way the guy kept bringing up the Tennis Life article. "Lacks the killer instinct to break into the top fifty," he kept saying, drunk, obnoxious, smiling that smile that men smile to show they're just kidding even when they're not just kidding. Who was this bozo anyway?

At which Aisha leaned over and kissed him like "poor you," her dreadlocks spilling across her lovely shoulders.

This had been last August, he told her, a real low point in his life. His knee was shot and he'd just retired ... or was on the verge of retiring ... or wasn't sure whether he was retiring or not-but his right knee was messed up, his life was messed up, his ranking had dropped below two hundred for the first time in eight years, and the only options were to drift back down into the Challengers circuit, or pack it in and try to land a college coaching job, or failing that a gig at some luxury resort instructing Fortune 500 types on how to hit a slice backhand.

"Sandy Alison," he imitated the guy, the bozo, the guy with the motorcycle last August. "Out of Duke, a great shotmaker but lacks the killer instinct to break into the top fifty."

Thing was, that past August was the second year running he hadn't qualified for the US Open. It had been the beginning of the end. And even if he had qualified, he wouldn't have been able to play—his knee again—so he'd come to Newport to the Hall of Fame Champions Cup as a hitting partner for Todd Martin. (A tagalong, a hanger-on: was that his future?) His money was beginning to run out and he knew he had to make a decision, and soon, but in Newport a little of the old life beckoned, and after the semifinals he'd gone to the Champions Ball with the idea of catching on with some of the local wealth (this was Newport, he didn't have to remind Aisha), but the evening had degenerated from the waltz to the bossa nova to the Watusi until the surviving couple dozen partiers—the Champions had left a long time ago—had gone off barhopping down along Thames Street and ended up at this . . . this . . . he couldn't even remember where they'd ended up but the bozo, the guy with the antique motorcycle, just wouldn't let up.

What he didn't tell her was how that phrase—"lacks the killer instinct"—had eaten at him for nearly a decade. It came from a year-end issue of Tennis Life, a Future-of-American-Tennis sort of thing about the new crop of guys making the transition to the pro tour. This was back in 2002 and he had just made it, as a freshman no less, to the NCAA Semifinals, and some of the things they had to say were cool. They called him "the Southern Gentleman," said he had an artistry on the court, was well liked in the players' lounge. But that last summing up had seemed to doom him to the hinterland of Almost But Not Quite, which, if he was completely honest, was exactly where he'd spent the decade of his pro career. He had in fact cracked the top fifty (Sandy Alison, 2006, #47 in the world, you can look it up), had made it once to the third round of Wimbledon, twice to the second round of the US Open, had a dozen Challengers titles to his name, the courts back at his Charleston high school named in his honor, but somehow none of that was good enough. He was, somehow, in spite of all that, a loser. It didn't matter that in 2006 he could beat all but forty-six freaking players in the whole freaking world. It didn't matter that whatever town he drove into he could beat whoever their best tennis player was, could beat him left-handed for Pete's sake (and he could too; he used to mess around on the court playing left-handed when he should have been doing drills)—none of that mattered. He was—even while people wanted to know him, wanted to hang out with him because he was a professional athlete—somehow he was still a loser. He hadn't been a winner—he lacked the killer instinct—and therefore he had to be a loser. That was how it felt anyway, although he didn't ever tell that to anyone. Certainly not to the woman lying beside him.

Excerpted from The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith. Copyright © 2018 by Gregory Blake Smith. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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