A first novel whose linear plotting, lack of genuine conflict, and penny-ante pronouncements suggest the poker-playing author should not forsake the sporting life. Narrator Joey Moore is, if not king, perhaps prince of suburban Maryland's gambling scene. A consistent, well-heeled winner in this low-rent district's high-stakes card parlors, he drifts through a banal existence sharing insights like ``Good poker is hard work....Great poker is courage.'' Between all-night sessions at the table and midafternoon wakeup calls, the young poker stud finds time to carry on two low-intensity affairs, take a potentially lucrative job managing the card room at a casino ostensibly established for the benefit of a legitimate charity, antagonize the gangsters who actually call the shots at this semi- legal operation, and swan about with his culturally diverse chums (Fat Boy, K.C., Nug, et al.). When Filipina Laura, one of Joey's back-burner ladies, announces that she's pregnant, it doesn't faze him. But after his son is born, he becomes a new, or at least less irresponsible, man. Meanwhile, events beyond his control help matters along, as when two justifiable homicides put a couple of lower-echelon hoods on the discard pile and end any possibility that the authorities will allow the casino to stay open. Toward the close, the free-spirited Joey, fresh from a trip to Las Vegas, goes looking for his long-lost dad in the poker rooms of southern Louisiana. Back home again, he bests an arrogant mother in a head- to-toe poker game and (with support from a nice girl with a past of her own) appears ready to accept the down-and-dirty obligations of fatherhood. Given the author's leaden touch, the challenging game of poker seems less a metaphor for life than a plentiful waste of time.
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