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. Read more...
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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; 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. Amidst 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?"
- ISBN-13: 9780385539906
- ISBN-10: 0385539908
- Publisher: Doubleday Books
- Publish Date: October 2016
- Page Count: 304
- Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.25 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-04
- Reviewer: Staff
In this pleasantly bizarre novel from Lethem (Lucky Alan), a down-on-his-luck backgammon hustler returns to his hometown of Berkeley, Calif., to undergo experimental facial surgery. After a cold streak in Berlin, telepath Alexander Bruno learns of a potentially deadly tumor in his face. In Singapore, a chance encounter with a wealthy high school friend, Keith Stolarksy, who offers to foot Bruno’s medical bills, draws Bruno back to California, where a Hendrix-loving surgeon removes his tumor but permanently scars his once-handsome face. To pay his debt to Stolarksy, who’s paid all his bills, medical and otherwise, Bruno is forced to work in one of Stolarsky’s restaurants, serving sliders to faux-punk Berkleyans in a sack-like mask. This leads Bruno to a final rebellion against Stolarsky, which plays right into the benefactor’s hands. Though inventive and well crafted, the novel neither fully endears its characters to the reader nor establishes narrative momentum, playing at themes and romantic entanglements that are expertly introduced but often under-explored and discarded. The impression is of a strong poker hand played without aggression, the hunger of a player out to prove himself. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME Entertainment. (Oct.)
A betting man
What if you took everything super away from a superhero? He might have his power and a pitiable origin story, but all the justice and morality is stripped away. That’s Alexander Bruno, the globe-trotting, tuxedo-wearing gambler whose memories of his own telepathy are tinged by confusion, sadness and a mysterious blot that keeps him from being able to see, either with his literal vision or with his second sight.
When we meet Bruno in Berlin, he seems on the precipice of a comeback, playing backgammon with an easy mark. But the easy score gets complicated—and that turns out to be just the beginning of his problems. As the world becomes more and more blurred by the block to Bruno’s eyesight, the exciting trajectory of his life is thwarted, eventually sending him back home to Berkeley, the place where he was raised by a flower child more interested in sleeping in parks and experimenting with drugs than being a mom. It’s also where he went to high school with Keith Stolarsky—a totally forgettable classmate who is now an incredibly wealthy owner of cheesy theme restaurants and monuments to consumerism.
Bruno is turned off by Keith and mystified by how he attracted his genuinely arresting girlfriend, Tira, to whom Bruno feels a deep connection. Keith is the most natural choice for a villain, a sloppy archnemesis for Bruno’s suave telepathic gambler. But instead of putting up a fight, Bruno accepts money and help from Keith. Eventually, his promising life devolves into a sort of sad blackmail, the end of a spectacularly bad bet that grows dangerously bloated before it collapses. The twists, turns and sagging morality of A Gambler’s Anatomy may be a bit much for some, but fans of Lethem’s dystopian genre-hopping will find a new antihero to adore.