Email this review


Thinly fictionalized memoir of a grueling six-year spree as a professional poker player, told in a motormouthed vernacular so mesmerizing—for better or worse—that the pages seem to reek of cigarette smoke, stale clothes, and cheap booze. May’s first effort is less novel than plotless collection of gritty gambling anecdotes posing as street wisdom. Mickey, the narrator, likes to talk tough and act cool behind his $100 sunglasses and triumphantly tacky thrift-shop wardrobe, but he can’t escape the notion that the marathon games he sits in on (they can last for days with no one eating or sleeping), the hapless moments when he plays perfectly but still loses, and the colorful, unsavory characters he competes against are all just grinding him down. Mickey doesn’t tell us how to win or even how to cheat, grumbles when he’s asked to make loans to people he doesn’t trust, and has nothing to show for his efforts beyond a few thousand dollars that don’t stay in his pocket for long. Claiming that poker is a blend of luck and skill, and that —luck is philosophy, and there are some people who are never going to fake it,” he repeatedly contradicts these and other lofty assertions, finally concluding that “People always want to know what’s going on and what’s going on is people are going broke.” Though he visits many poker rooms across the US and Europe, and frequently wins enough money to live for months in comfort, Mickey eschews the good life, smokes too much marijuana, has no romantic attachments, and hangs out with untrustworthy, colorfully nicknamed buddies who’stupid and downright malevolent as they often are—get a buzz from the game but never seem to have any fun. A wildly uneven, slang-filled road trip that glories in every pothole in its path. Amateur cardsharps and casino denizens will find themselves, writ small, in these pages.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-385-48940-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Anchor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1998