A gritty, often gross tale of a desperate ne’er-do-well.

WE RUN BAD

In this debut novel, an alcoholic gambler gets the chance to make money on the other side of the table.

When the housing market collapses and destroys Tim’s dream of flipping an old Philadelphia dwelling—and the portion of his savings he spent to acquire it—he abandons the property to his creditors and moves to Atlantic City to try “to play poker for a living.” Turns out that this is easier said than done, as Tim learns once he starts running bad. “What does ‘running bad’ mean?” he asks readers. “It means losing $50,000 in just under three months at middle stakes poker. It means a $2700 chicken sandwich—that’s the chicken sandwich you eat right after you’ve just lost $2700 right before lunchtime.” He’s also gained 30 pounds and developed a crippling addiction to alcohol while routinely entertaining ideas of drinking himself to death as a means of escaping his troubles. He tries to stay out of Atlantic City by squatting in his own foreclosed row house in Philadelphia, but he’s driven away when a neighborhood flood sends “raw sewage gurgling up through the basement’s drainage system” and he’s beset by a biblical plague of flies. He returns to Atlantic City and has just hit rock bottom when he gets an offer from “the world’s most inconspicuous loan shark,” Brian: running an underground card game in midtown Manhattan. It’s illegal and it’s rigged against the players—just like the casinos, Wall Street, and the rest of America. Tim agrees and is quickly dropped into a world of rakes, vigs, rich college kids, vague threats, and Russian floor men, where everything is too expensive and fools are easily parted with their money. For once Tim is on the winning side of a hustle—at least until, as happens with every hustle, the floor collapses out from under him. Curry’s prose deftly captures Tim in all his down-and-out glory. Like most literary drunks, he’s equal parts philosopher (“The secret behind all class conflict and social instability in the Western hemisphere lies within the walls of this American public convenience store”) and wince-inducing cautionary tale (“After about six more hours of trying to blind myself, I plod my way to the bathroom, as it seems the safest, most logical place to have a seriously dark moment”). Tim is offended by the casual racism of others, though he is a frequent source of it, and he rarely meets a woman who doesn’t cause him to go on at some length about the ways in which she disgusts him. Tim’s misadventures evoke the long tradition of vagabond literature practiced by writers like George Orwell, Hunter S. Thompson, Denis Johnson, and others. While Tim’s story will be compelling enough for fans of that genre, Curry does not successfully excavate enough humanity from the protagonist’s fringe experiences to warrant all the misanthropy and exploitative leering. The connections between the 2008 financial crisis, gambling, and addiction are fertile, but the author doesn’t quite tie them together in a satisfying way.

A gritty, often gross tale of a desperate ne’er-do-well.

Pub Date: June 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73241-121-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: The Okie Doke Book Publishing Corporation

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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