Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 47.
- Review Date: 2007-11-12
- Reviewer: Staff
A soft-pedaling memoir by journalist Frankel fondly recalls growing up in the Bronx and Queens, N.Y., learning to play poker from her dad and uncles, which would later become her obsession. As a kid Frankel absorbed the numbers-canny ways of her relatives, who doled out gambling advice such as the reference in the title to a ship’s sinking, leaving only hats and eyeglasses floating on the surface. With the death of her beloved father, known as the Pencil because he was a CPA, Frankel’s big dreams deflated and she largely drifted through school, a first marriage and drug use, before meeting woodworker Steve. She moved to Woodstock, N.Y., and, through friends, began writing celebrity interviews for magazines like Details. An idea for writing a screenplay about a poker player brought her into close contact with her ex-con cousin Keith, who had taught her how to play. From regular Wednesday night poker games with her friend Sal’s group of hard-pickled males, where she learned how not to play “like a girl,” to an all-poker cruise to casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., and L.A., she gravitated to playing online, which enthralled her—and emptied her bank account. As she explains in this frank and unaffected memoir, shame brought her back to her family and closer to her mother. (Feb.)
When a house of cards collapses
While her Jewish "aunts" played mah-jongg in their Queens kitchen, young Martha Frankel preferred the "uncles" poker games in the living room every Friday night. By age 10, she had learned to read the Daily Racing Form and was accompanying her CPA father to the track. This early entrée into gambling would come to haunt Frankel much later in life, when her world turned to Hats & Eyeglasses, a poker term for a losing hand and the title of her candid, conversational and even comical new memoir.
When Frankel's father died just before she started high school, she filled the void with alcohol, drugs and men, and smugly prided herself on never becoming hooked, like some of her relatives. As she developed a loving, stable relationship with her artist husband, she began writing articles for Details magazine and enjoyed immediate success, jet-setting around the world to interview celebrities.
Although Frankel hadn't touched a card since her parents' game nights, she returned to poker in her mid-40s to conduct research for a screenplay. For advice, she turned to a former professional player she knew; to her mother, who earned extra money playing during the Depression; and to Michael, a mentor who encouraged her during her first fearful Wednesday night games. Poker was so immediately thrilling that she refused assignments worth thousands of dollars to practice her game all day. When she needed to pay bills, she built her schedule around her Wednesday night games. And when she was good enoughand she was good all rightshe scheduled her Hollywood interviews around lunch, so she could reach the casinos by evening and sleep in the morning.
Thinking her life couldn't get any better, Frankel discovered online poker and quickly became addicted. No matter that she was losing more money than she could hope to recover, that she was abandoning her family and friends. As Frankel confronts her shame and family tendencies, her raw yet touching storytelling will inspire gambling addicts, their loved ones and those who simply want to know more about this debilitating compulsion.
Angela Leeper is an educational consultant and writer in Wake Forest, North Carolina.