A couple of love-struck gamblers navigate mobsters and an unstable timeline in Fraser’s surreal debut fantasy romance.
In the opening chapters of this novel, card players Mike and Amy meet cute at a New Orleans poker table. And then they meet cute for the first time again. The reason: Mike keeps waking up in amnesiac hazes, and each time, he pieces together evidence that his personal chronology has been undone by supernatural forces. He repeatedly hustles to right his timeline, reunite with Amy, and maybe get to the World Series of Poker. Meanwhile, 20-something Amy, a compulsive gambler who “eloped with [her] mom’s chiropractor” at 16 and who’s now 11 months into a streak of bad luck, is embroiled in a scheme to launder counterfeit poker chips for the Russian mob. Mike and Amy’s world of seedy casinos and poker players is rendered with many persuasive details, such as Mike’s knowing assessment of other players, “the type who cut their teeth on the Internet in fast, multi-table action, playing six, ten, twelve tables at a time like chess masters.” As a result, the tension that Fraser builds in the betting scenes will be accessible even to poker neophytes. As Mike and Amy’s parallel plots unfold, they alternate first-person points of view; both are engaging, but there are times when the shared tics of their voices blend together (both use the term “the girlfriend experience,” for example). The author’s droll humor comes through in the lovers’ observations about their bad luck and in the mundane pettiness of the magical beings manipulating them. (One of those beings complains about the matchmaking spirits’ union: “The grievance-filing process takes forever. Even if we win, the inevitable appeal ties us into knots for ages.”) The combination of time travel and the couple’s playful game of changing their names every day somewhat muddles the narrative, and there’s a late-breaking political subplot that becomes extremely unwieldy. However, the affecting depiction of Amy’s struggle to right her life, along with the complex plot, give the novel depth and excitement.
A tale of destined love that successfully weds the charms of fantasy worldbuilding and shaggy dog stories.