A competent though slight reminiscence of days of wine and flushes.
Those who have read Mordecai Richler’s novel Joshua Then and Now will be familiar with entertainment journalist Frankel’s father and his cronies, tough immigrants with names like Cha Cha, Broadway and Sammy B who aspired to get out of the Bronx projects and passed the time playing poker and pinochle. The Frankels did get out, moving across town to an apartment in Queens with a nice view of the 1964 World’s Fair site, then under construction. The game followed: men in one room playing poker, women in the other playing canasta. “I learned to read the Daily Racing Form,” writes Frankel. “I learned about daily doubles and exactas, started to recognize the jockeys from one week to the next, learned the name of the man who sold the tickets, the one who smiled at me and said, ‘Hope this one’s a big winner, honey,’ as he handed the tickets to my father.” Such is the vanity of human wishes; Frankel’s memoir turns up few winning moments, its title referring to the bupkes that pop brought down on the low-stakes circuit of backroom poker and OTB. Frankel doesn’t do much better, coached along by an ex-con cousin who is distinctly unimpressed by the list she carries that runs from a pair to a straight flush (“‘Because I can’t remember what comes between three-of-a-kind and four-of-a-kind,’ I whine”). Still, she holds her own, self-aware enough to know her strengths and weaknesses as a player and smart enough to impress fellow inmates at a writers’ workshop. At that, the book has a workshoppy feel, with a few feints at drama—Is she a gambling addict? Will she lose her shirt at Harrah’s?—and the requisite what-I-learned lesson: “I’m no longer out of control, fighting a dragon I could never slay.”
Of modest interest as an admonition to the potentially wayward. But Richler’s book has a better payoff.