Saturday, October 29, 2016

Review: "A Gambler's Anatomy" by Jonathan Lethem

I may have said this before, but I will say it again, the books of Michael Chabon (whose new book comes out in a few weeks and is in my library request queue) and Jonathan Lethem are the literary equivalent of the blockbuster superhero movies I, as a film fan, choose to see over the summer. I have not expected them to be good for quite some time, but I feel an odd sense of duty to check them out, even though I have not read a fantastic book from either of them in year. For me at least, the best book by Chabon is Wonderboys, although I enjoyed but did not love most of his other fiction. For Lethem, whose new book, A Gambler’s Anatomy I just read, he has not put out a good book since The Fortress of Solitude, and the other novels I have read of his have come frightfully close to being terrible. It is hard for me to tell, even now as I write this, how close this book comes to embodying that notion. Its premise is cool and made me pick it up. It focuses on Alexander Bruno, whose untouchable backgammon skills, of which he uses to cheat stupid rich men out of their money, is being threatened by a facial tumor that is blocking his vision. He goes back to California, a place he was banished from, and has a surgery paid for by a sketchy old friend, with some expected complications. The first few sections, where Bruno is fighting his ailment and goes through the surgery, performed by one of the most unprofessional doctors in fiction, are splendid. But when it is not boring, I found the anachronisms to be distracting and hobbling. Everything about this story has the feeling of an early 20th century yarn: the game in question, the character’s names and way people talk, but it is set in the present day. It sounds like a minor complaint, but the more I thought about it, the bigger an issue it became. I can’t say that I hate this book, but from someone who wrote Motherless Brooklyn, I shouldn’t feel okay with just an okay book.

Rating: 3/5

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