We are told that Ilie Nastase's second novel, The Net (St. Martin's Press, $16.95), has been "translated from the French." Despite the literary cachet of that phrase, the book seems to have gained nothing in translation but, then, it probably didn't lose much, either.
Not that The Net is without merit. Clearly, Nastase invested substantial time and energy in both The Net and its predecessor, Break Point. Both are set in the tennis world, where Nastase once moved so flamboyantly. This latest effort, in particular, shows much literary ambition, if not much literary flair.
Nastase has tried to create a hard-court, but not hard-core, Lolita. As the book opens, two of former tennis champion Istvan Horwat's friends have been killed in a plane crash, leaving him with custody of their 10-year-old daughter, Natty Kotany. No longer the cute and winsome toddler Horwat remembers, Kotany is now a cute and precocious almost-adolescent. As she matures into a dangerously alluring tennis pro, Horwat becomes ensnared in "the net" of his confused emotions. Nastase tries to make much of his metaphor, but his prose becomes tangled in the process. Of a dream, he writes: "The net closed around the choking, tortured man. Istvan once more had fallen into the trap in deep ocean water. But the shrieking of the ocean elements suddenly ceased. In the unexpected calm, the din of the cataracts was no more than a lapping..."
Nastase's match descriptions, and some walk-throughs by Yannick Noah, Fred Stolle and other tennis figures, keep the book moving. But his attempt to create an involving psychological portrait fails. On court, Nastase would often try impossible shots and sometimes pull them off. Here he misses, though it's fair to say that for Nastase the novelist, the match is not yet over.