Eleven stories centered on a weekly poker game conducted among a set of aging women friends.
A number of the stories here first appeared as nonfiction essays in collections about women, homosexuality, and the elderly, and memoirist Fairey (One of the Family, 1992) never truly abandons the lilt of autobiography in delivering them. The friends first appear in “Menopause & Poker,” making an attempt to counter hot flashes with the cheap, warm thrill of gambling; a sometime player at the game encourages the group to abandon wild cards in favor of strict poker (“The Bad Hand”), at least until an adventurous life ends in the bad beat of cancer. Often the poker thread is simply an arbitrary binding element linking otherwise unrelated essays: “Family Pets” is a miniature memoir told through stories of unfortunate pets that perhaps speak to a larger family dynamic—“. . . our luck with pets was poor, and a number of them met with untimely ends.” “Mind & Body” tells of emergence into homosexuality, an affair that leads to the end of a marriage, and the confession that “On my list of embarrassing secrets, only having been arrested for shoplifting at the age of twenty-seven used to rank higher than being gay.” The politics, sexual and otherwise, attendant to a bike trip in Europe (“Over the Hill”) are tested when one of the group goes down in a pool of blood—what are the implications? In the end, the poker motif ties together in a final piece (“A Hundred Hearts”) about the effort to remain at peace, and to remain alive (as one player continues to lose lovers and is tossed out of the poker game altogether), by reveling in grandparenthood and the joy of unlikely abundance.
Stories only by convenient label, these are pieces that please with minutiae and uncommon honesty.