The author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude returns with a devilishly entertaining novel about an international backgammon hustler who thinks he's psychic. Too bad about the tumor in his face.
Handsome, impeccably tuxedoed Bruno Alexander travels the world winning large sums of money from amateur "whales" who think they can challenge his peerless acumen at backgammon. Fronted by his pasty, vampiric manager, Edgar Falk, Bruno arrives in Berlin after a troubling run of bad luck in Singapore. Perhaps it was the chance encounter with his crass childhood acquaintance Keith Stolarsky and his smoldering girlfriend, Tira Harpaz. Or perhaps it was the emergence of a blot that distorts his vision so he has to look at the board sideways.
Things don't go much better in Berlin. Bruno's flirtation with Madchen, the striking blonde he meets on the ferry, is inconclusive; the game at the unsettling Herr Kohler's mansion goes awry as his blot grows worse; and he passes out and is sent to the local hospital, where he is given an extremely depressing diagnosis. Having run through Falk's money, Bruno turns to Stolarsky, who, for reasons of his own, agrees to fly Bruno to Berkeley and to pay for the experimental surgery that might save his life. Berkeley, where Bruno discovered his psychic abilities, and to which he vowed never to return.
Amid the patchouli flashbacks and anarchist gambits of the local scene, between Tira's come-ons and Keith's machinations, Bruno confronts two existential questions: Is the gambler being played by life? And what if you're telepathic, but it doesn't do you any good?
©2016 Jonathan Lethem (P)2016 Random House Audio
"Lethem's 10th novel is a romp in which history, both personal and collective, can't help but assert itself.... [A] fitting follow-up to Dissident Gardens (2013).... Lethem takes real pleasure in the language and writes with a sense of the absurd that illuminates his situations and his characters.... In this tragicomic novel, nothing is ever exactly as it seems." (Kirkus)
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
"Not everything needed to rise to converge: It could just drift together into the indiscernible middle, and bewilder you."
- Jonathan Letham, A Gambler's Anatomy
The more I read of Jonathan Lethem, the more difficult it becomes to separate him from Michael Chabon. They seem like literary twins writing around the same hipster Brooklyn/Berkeley geography. This novel seems grown from Pynchon, Hesse, Carey, Dostoevsky, Dumas, Leroux, Nabokov, Mann, and of course Chabon.
I probably sound more irritated than I am, it just seriously is odd to read a book that centers around a hipster shop on Telegraph Avenue, written by a Jewish writer, born in the early 60s, who loves comic books, vinyl, flowery prose, etc., and discover it wasn't Telegraph Avenue. Perhaps, I should just accept that when I buy Lethem, I might get Chabon and when I buy Chabon, I might get Lethem and move on. At this point, I'm pretty good with prose, but if you did the Pepsi/Coke challenge with me on Chabon/Lethem, I'm screwed.
The plot was interesting, the prose was above average, yet the book wasn't nearly Lethem's best I'm still not pissed about reading it. There WAS something there. It was good. The chapter told from the perspective of the brain surgeon (Dr. Noah Behringer, a Hendrix obscessed "mechanic of the meat") was one of my favorites and might just have earned the book an extra star all on its own. Obviously, this novel doesn't approach Dostoevsky's The Gambler, Nabokov's King, Queen, Knave, Hesse's The Glass Bead Game, or Carey's Oscar and Lucinda in terms of literary writing about games, chance, love, and life; but if you are seeking interesting hipster dialogue and the occasional kinky scene that includes a mask, well, buy the book and keep your Eyes Wide Shut and one hand on your wallet and you other hand on your pills.
The absence of a plot
Hard to say - there was no story.
At least it was only 10 hours long .....
I recommend this book to everyone who plays and loves backgammon. For remaining 99.9% of us, maybe you could fast forward through the many scenes that go on and on about the points and the primes and the doubling cube and moving those little checkers around, but then you would have to spend all your time in the company of the empty-headed protagonist and his entourage of irritating jerks, as he wanders an international landscape, trying to heal his soul I guess, but just being generally obtuse.
I did not like this book.
this is a rather literary novel. It does have some genre conventions of Science Fiction and mystery. I don't typically enjoy literary novels very much, but I did enjoy this one. Unfortunately, I found the ending quite flat. It makes sense within the conventions of an intelligent and intellectual piece, but for the plot junkie in me it was not great.
Seriously, don't bother. Had potential at times to be interesteling. It failed. Miserably. The reader did a great job, but the book itself was a let down in every way.
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