Sunday, June 21, 2015

Bob the Gambler by Frederick Barthelme

 A husband and wife get into serious financial straits at the Biloxi casinos

Ray and Jewel Kaiser, satisfied residents of the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, one day leave their house to try out the flashy new casinos moored along the once old timey shore. It’s not very long before Ray, without even thinking deeply about it, has gambled away thirty-five thousand dollars, and the couple, along with their teenage daughter RV, must move in with Ray’s understanding mom.

This book had a low key charm, the engine being the first person narration and humorous dialogue between the husband and the wife, the stepdad and the stepdaughter. The setting and the writing definitely felt like another time and place. The novel reminded me of Joy Williams. I guess you would call it Minimalism. The stakes feel low, but in retrospect, the hero is a guy who loses every material thing, as well as his pride.  He takes it well -- the tone feels jokey.

The frame of the book is gambling, specifically blackjack.  The destructive compulsiveness of those card scenes is beautifully described. After finishing the novel, I googled Barthelme- he lost all his money gambling, then was indicated for fraud. So the breezy low stakes tone here – were the stakes really low, or did he find out once he lost everything he felt freer? Or was that the only way to feel anything at all?

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