Andre Agassi: what the critics say about "Open"

A look at some early book reviews of Agassi's memoir "Open".

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You might or might not like Andre Agassi and you might or might not be able to forgive him for lying about his use of crystal meth. But there seems to be one point on which book critics will be able to agree: When it comes to his memoir, Agassi displayed great taste in his choice of ghostwriter.

"Open: An Autobiography" sports Agassi's own name on the cover. However, the ghostwriter  behind the scenes was J.R. Moehringer, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of "The Tender Bar," an acclaimed memoir of his own.

Moehringer's name is not on the cover of "Open" (according to Janet Maslin, who reviewed "Open" for the New York Times, Agassi offered to share marquee credit with Moehringer but he declined). Maslin, however, is quick to heap praise on the man behind the scenes. "The ease with which Mr. Moehringer slips into telling someone else’s story is both consummate and spooky," she writes.

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Michael Mewshaw, reviewing "Open" for the Washington Post, offers credit to Agassi as well. "[I]t's both astonishing and a pleasure to report that Andre Agassi, who was castigated for an ad campaign saying 'Image is everything,' has produced an honest, substantive, insightful autobiography," Mershaw writes.

But Mewshaw too closes his review by considering some of the "inspired choices" that Agassi has made later in life. Right up there with marrying Steffi Graf, says Mewshaw, was "finding a terrific ghostwriter."

According to Mewshaw, "Open" is "extraordinary," a book that "vividly recounts a lost childhood, a Dickensian adolescence and a chaotic struggle in adulthood to establish an identity that doesn't depend on alcohol, drugs or the machinations of PR."

Maslin, however, is a bit harder on the book. She calls "Open" a work that is "lively but narrow," because, she explains, "Mr. Agassi’s curiosity does not extend far beyond tennis, more tennis, the misery of tennis, the way sportswriters misunderstand tennis and the irritating celebrity that tennis stardom confers."

However, she concedes, "Somebody on the memoir team has great gifts for heart-tugging drama" and her review traces the same path backward into Agassi's painful childhood with a driven father determined to make his son a winner, regardless of the personal toll it might take on the boy.

As a writer, Mewshaw has covered pro tennis for years and thus may have more appetite for the game than Maslin, who complains that “ 'Open' devotes a lot of space to thumbnail descriptions of matches and opponents, a litany that would drone on without dynamic, writerly flourishes."

In the end, though, for Mewshaw too, the book's true appeal lies off the court. "While not without excitement, Agassi's comeback to No. 1 is less uplifting than his sheer survival, his emotional resilience and his good humor in the face of the luckless cards he was often dealt," he writes.

The big revelations in the book seem to be Agassi's use of crystal meth (about which he lied when caught), his outright dislike of the game of tennis, and the fact that his famous mullets may have been part-toupee.

For some of the reading public, of course, knowing that much may be enough. After seeing Agassi interviewed by Katie Couric  on "60 Minutes," Meredith McKenna, writing for the Examiner, confesses: "I already feel inspired ... to not finish reading."

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe.

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