Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One of twenty stories in Barry Hannah’s first published collection, Airships (1978), “Return to Return” was salvaged from an aborted novel. Five years later, “Return to Return” appeared as the initial section of The Tennis Handsome (1983), a novel that reintroduces the three principal characters of the original story and further develops their collective narrative.

The novel’s title signals one of the writer’s major themes in “Return to Return.” French Edward, in his role as “The Tennis Handsome,” assumes legendary stature as the incarnation of comeliness and strength, much like “the Handsome Sailor” in the posthumously published novella Billy Budd (1924) by the nineteenth century U.S. novelist Herman Melville. Like Billy Budd, French Edward serves as a standard by which all the other characters are measured.

Although Baby Levaster, a physician, is clearly the intellectual superior of college dropout French Edward, the unprepossessing Levaster nevertheless covets Edward’s physical beauty and yearns for his mindless athleticism. Levaster himself recognizes the “perfect mental desert” of Edward’s brain, a condition that makes it possible for him to respond so instinctively to the game without the distraction of thought.

Levaster longs to merge his mind with Edward’s body, an opportunity that presents itself after the tennis pro nearly drowns. This role as companion and...

(The entire section is 549 words.)