In the absence of love, a man seeks solace in pathological gambling and literature in this debut memoir.
When Rosenthal was just 11 years old, his father attempted suicide and was institutionalized. The author’s socially awkward teenage years were lonely ones, and he turned to literature to experience and understand the romantic love he wanted but could never attain. He entered the University of Iowa’s renowned creative writing program, but failed playwriting, a harbinger of his future disappointment as a writer. He then meandered from one high school teaching job to another, and during a stint on the faculty of American University in Washington, D.C., he discovered the obsession that would dominate his life for the next quarter-century: gambling on horse racing. He accepted a position at Northern Illinois University, mostly due to its proximity to racetracks, and sank himself so deep in debt, he says, that he was reduced to various kinds of financial fraud in order to barely stay afloat. Along the way, Rosenthal suffered both minor indignities (he was caught shoplifting after squandering thousands of dollars in winnings in a single day) and major ones (bankruptcy). Eventually, he sought help from therapists and programs for gambling addicts and found some stability, if not the fullness of redemption. This is an eclectic work that combines self-help, personal memoir, and a philosophical meditation on the nature and possibility of romantic love. Rosenthal’s story is a familiar one, but he tells it with considerable flair and erudition. Unfortunately, his style sometimes devolves into undisciplined flamboyance: “Pugnacious bouncers bum-rush the pathetic imbibers onto the street as reward for emptying their pockets to an old barkeep pissed off at having to listen to the same old racetrack B.S. from whining losers seeking no more than a sympathetic ear for solace.” Also, he sometimes piles up literary references that do little to illustrate his points, and the fact that this brief work is distilled down from 3,000 pages of journal entries makes it a bit scattershot. That said, Rosenthal is bracingly candid about his missteps, and exceedingly thoughtful throughout.
A meditative, if sometimes-overwritten, appraisal of compulsion and love.