The author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude returns with a devilishly entertaining novel about an international backgammon hustler who thinks he's psychic. Too bad about the tumor in his face.
Alexander Bruno travels the world playing high stakes backgammon and hunting for amateur “whales” who think they can challenge him. Lately he’s had a run of bad luck, not helped by the blot that has emerged in his field of vision, which forces him to look at the board sideways. As the blot grows larger, his game gets worse, until, at an opulent mansion in Berlin, he passes out in the middle of a match and receives an alarming diagnosis.
Out of money and out of friends, he turns to the only person who can help (and the last person he wants to see): a high-rolling former childhood acquaintance who agrees to pay for Bruno’s experimental surgery in Berkeley. But Berkeley is the place where Bruno discovered his psychic gift and where he vowed never to return. There, forced to confront patchouli flashbacks and his uncertain future, he must ask himself: Is he playing the game, or is the game playing him?
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Jonathan Lethem’s novel about a backgammon “shark” facing down a heap of bad luck is weird, gripping, and beautifully told. A disheveled and charming wanderer, Alexander Bruno has made his living playing high-stakes games with wealthy opponents. When an illness forces him to leave Berlin for his Northern California hometown, his unsettling past gets stirred up. We were completely wrapped up in A Gambler’s Anatomy; Lethem combines trippy flights of fancy with affecting reflections on aging, identity, chance, and our hunger for connection.
In this pleasantly bizarre novel from Lethem (Lucky Alan), a down-on-his-luck backgammon hustler returns to his hometown of Berkeley, Calif., to undergo experimental facial surgery. After a cold streak in Berlin, telepath Alexander Bruno learns of a potentially deadly tumor in his face. In Singapore, a chance encounter with a wealthy high school friend, Keith Stolarksy, who offers to foot Bruno's medical bills, draws Bruno back to California, where a Hendrix-loving surgeon removes his tumor but permanently scars his once-handsome face. To pay his debt to Stolarksy, who's paid all his bills, medical and otherwise, Bruno is forced to work in one of Stolarsky's restaurants, serving sliders to faux-punk Berkleyans in a sack-like mask. This leads Bruno to a final rebellion against Stolarsky, which plays right into the benefactor's hands. Though inventive and well crafted, the novel neither fully endears its characters to the reader nor establishes narrative momentum, playing at themes and romantic entanglements that are expertly introduced but often under-explored and discarded. The impression is of a strong poker hand played without aggression, the hunger of a player out to prove himself.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Disappointing from a literary master
Lethem has written some of my favorite books and is capable of great literary heights. Gambler's Anatomy is not one of his great works.
Lethem's usual wonderful prose is here but the characters and the narrative are soggy and depressing. 👎🏻