A minor work by a major novelist, a busman’s holiday, but engaging in its color and character.

THE NOBLE HUSTLE

POKER, BEEF JERKY, AND DEATH

An assignment to compete in the World Series of Poker allows the author to meditate on his identity, failings, writing, appetite for beef jerky and challenge to make the leap from decent house player to high-stakes pro gambler.

As a novelist of considerable range, Whitehead consistently writes about more than he’s ostensibly writing about, turning a futuristic zombie novel (Zone One, 2010, etc.) into a parable of contemporary New York and here writing a poker book that should strike a responsive literary chord with some who know nothing about the game, though for those who want to read a poker book, much of this contextual elaboration might feel like padding. It begins with a definition of “anhedonia: the inability to experience pleasure,” preceding the first chapter, “The Republic of Anhedonia,” of which the author proclaims himself a citizen and representative. The first sentence: “I have a good poker face because I am half dead inside.” He also has an ex-wife, a young daughter, a weekly poker game and an assignment from Grantland to cover the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas as a participant. Even the assignment is something of a gamble—his freelance payment is the entrance fee, and whatever he wins (or, presumably generates in subsequent book royalties), he keeps. But if he loses, as odds are he will, he gets nothing but memories and experience for the article he must write. As he writes of warm-up sessions in Atlantic City, training with his “Coach,” competing with more experienced players in Vegas, he sometimes seems to be trying too hard—“Pick your fights like you pick your nose: with complete awareness of where you are”—while drawing parallels between poker and writing (“We were all making up stories, weaving narratives”). Since his narrative doesn’t proceed chronologically to a natural climax, he jumps around a bit with time.

A minor work by a major novelist, a busman’s holiday, but engaging in its color and character.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-53705-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he...

LIVES OTHER THAN MY OWN

The latest from French writer/filmmaker Carrère (My Life as a Russian Novel, 2010, etc.) is an awkward but intermittently touching hybrid of novel and autobiography.

The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he describes powerfully. Carrère and his partner, Hélène, then return to Paris—and do so with a mutual devotion that's been renewed and deepened by all they've witnessed. Back in France, Hélène's sister Juliette, a magistrate and mother of three small daughters, has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that crippled her in adolescence. After her death, Carrère decides to write an oblique tribute and an investigation into the ravages of grief. He focuses first on Juliette's colleague and intimate friend Étienne, himself an amputee and survivor of childhood cancer, and a man in whose talkativeness and strength Carrère sees parallels to himself ("He liked to talk about himself. It's my way, he said, of talking to and about others, and he remarked astutely that it was my way, too”). Étienne is a perceptive, dignified person and a loyal, loving friend, and Carrère's portrait of him—including an unexpectedly fascinating foray into Étienne and Juliette's chief professional accomplishment, which was to tap the new European courts for help in overturning longtime French precedents that advantaged credit-card companies over small borrowers—is impressive. Less successful is Carrère's account of Juliette's widower, Patrice, an unworldly cartoonist whom he admires for his fortitude but seems to consider something of a simpleton. Now and again, especially in the Étienne sections, Carrère's meditations pay off in fresh, pungent insights, and his account of Juliette's last days and of the aftermath (especially for her daughters) is quietly harrowing.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9261-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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