A Gambler's Anatomy: Book summary and reviews of A Gambler's Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem

A Gambler's Anatomy

by Jonathan Lethem

A Gambler's Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem X
A Gambler's Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem
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  • Published in USA  Oct 2016
    304 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

A devilishly entertaining novel about an international backgammon hustler who thinks he's psychic. Too bad about the tumor in his face.

Handsome, impeccably tuxedoed Bruno Alexander travels the world winning large sums of money from amateur "whales" who think they can challenge his peerless acumen at backgammon. Fronted by his pasty, vampiric manager, Edgar Falk, Bruno arrives in Berlin after a troubling run of bad luck in Singapore. Perhaps it was the chance encounter with his crass childhood acquaintance Keith Stolarsky and his smoldering girlfriend Tira Harpaz. Or perhaps it was the emergence of a blot that distorts his vision so he has to look at the board sideways.

Things don't go much better in Berlin. Bruno's flirtation with Madchen, the striking blonde he meets on the ferry, is inconclusive; the game at the unsettling Herr Kohler's mansion goes awry as his blot grows worse; he passes out and is sent to the local hospital, where he is given an extremely depressing diagnosis. Having run through Falk's money, Bruno turns to Stolarsky, who, for reasons of his own, agrees to fly Bruno to Berkeley, and to pay for the experimental surgery that might save his life.

Berkeley, where Bruno discovered his psychic abilities, and to which he vowed never to return. Amidst the patchouli flashbacks and Anarchist gambits of the local scene, between Tira's come-ons and Keith's machinations, Bruno confronts two existential questions: Is the gambler being played by life?  And what if you're telepathic but it doesn't do you any good?

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Lethem takes real pleasure in the language and writes with a sense of the absurd that illuminates his situations and his characters... In this tragicomic novel, nothing is ever exactly as it seems." - Kirkus

"Starred Review. A humorously surreal and articulate story of Bruno's search for himself after having his face and brain rearranged, both by surgery and by modern life in general, this is, among other things, a great Berkeley novel like Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue." - Library Journal

"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." - Publishers Weekly

"Lethem's focus - whether on backgammon, brain surgery, or anarchist burger chefs - is exquisite, but the enigmatic vessel at the heart of this book won't capture everyone's imagination." - Booklist

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Author Information

Jonathan Lethem Author Biography

Jonathan Lethem is the New York Times bestselling author of ten novels, including The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. He currently teaches creative writing at Pomona College in California.

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