Once a successful ESPN sportscaster, Ray Parisi is making a spectacular mess of his life.
This debut novel by screenwriter Tambakis is loaded with Bruce Springsteen references: the hero is in love with a Jersey girl, and one of the Boss’ most famous onstage speeches gets quoted in full. Deep into a gambling addiction, Ray has lost his job and wound up in a cheap Connecticut motel, and now the cops are after him because he assaulted a jockey who won a race after Ray had bet against him. He's never gotten over his ex-wife, identified only as L., who is now about to remarry. Ray gets a second shot when his estranged father dies and leaves him a $600,000 inheritance. But instead of turning his life around he heads to Vegas, where he plans to win a few jackpots, raise enough to buy a $2 million dream home, and convince L. to leave her fiance and join him there. His only ally on the trip is Renée, a teenage runaway he meets at a strip club, but even she’s gone by the time Ray heads to Memphis to crash L.’s wedding. Tambakis keeps the humor from getting too broad and Ray from getting too sympathetic, though the reader usually roots for him anyway. His final confrontation with L. feels messy but true, just like a good Springsteen song.
If this were a Springsteen album, it would be “Devils & Dust”: partly set in Las Vegas, it evinces hope and humor but is dark and gritty at its core.