Winter B.S. 1960 — Tucson AZ. The narrator of this chapter addresses someone called Jim (James Incandenza). They discuss Jim’s mother, who was a “long-suffering wife and breadwinner.” She once had a small part in a movie with Marlon Brando, who moved with the grace of a tennis player. The narrator predicts that Jim will be a “near-great” and “truly great” tennis player. At this point it is revealed that the narrator is Jim’s father, James Sr.. He admits that on the day his son beats him at tennis, he will cry with “an obliterated father’s terrible joy.” Jim is currently ten years old, with a “quick little scientific-prodigy’s mind.”
In a very obvious way, James Incandenza’s childhood and parents are plagued by the same issues that will affect his own family. James Sr., his wife, and James Jr. are all preoccupied with precociousness, talent, and success. James Sr. feels threatened by his son, in part due to his insecurities about failing to succeed in his own tennis career.
James Sr. trains Jim in tennis, teaching him to think of himself as a body and nothing else. He offers Jim a drink of something, and Jim initially refuses until his father insists. James Sr. then forces him to put down a book about refractive indices and focus on playing tennis. Jim reacts badly and his father reprimands him for being oversensitive. James Sr. says that the family is moving back to California in the spring. He then bitterly recalls the memory of his own father, Mario Sr., refusing to watch any of his tennis matches when he was a teenager.
Again, the problems of the Incandenza family are shown to have occurred in every generation. Jim’s alcoholism seems to have come from his own father, and James Sr.’s insecurity about tennis stems from Mario Sr.’s cruel indifference to his achievements. The fact that the family names are repeated emphasizes this sense of recurring patterns.
Mario Sr., who James Sr. also calls “Himself,” ended up coming to a match only once, accompanied by a client. James Sr. heard the client remark that he was a good tennis player, to which Mario replied: “Yes, But He’ll Never Be Great.” At this point James Sr. had already slipped on something and was falling to the ground. The fall destroyed his knees forever, and made him learn “what it means to be a body.”
Here Mario Sr.’s remark becomes a kind of curse. James Sr. may have already been falling when Mario uttered it, but as soon as Mario says the words James hits the ground, injuring himself and ruining his capacity to be a “great” player.