An international backgammon hustler, who has amassed a fortune through psychic tomfoolery, develops a large tumor on his face that compromises his vision and eventually threatens his life, forcing him to pursue an experimental surgery and contemplate existential questions. 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? -- Provided by publisher.
The book begins brilliantly, with Bruno going to Wannsee, just outside of Berlin, to play backgammon against a man he has been assured will be easy prey. Bruno needs the money; after the disaster in Singapore he's utterly without resources. And those opening chapters are excellent, with the small exception of the stereo-typical younger and attractive woman who is drawn to the desperate and thread-bare Bruno. Bruno's descent coincides with a blot in the center of his vision, one which requires him to look at things through the corners of his eyes and may be related to the headaches and other health issues. The evening in Wannsee does not go well.
From this promising beginning, A Gambler's Anatomy turns out to be just another WMFuN*, where the world and especially the women in it, exist to spotlight what's happening to the self-absorbed main character. Add a long stretch of men being more interested in their own thought-processes than anything around them and the utter relegation of women to helpers and sex and the book ended up being quite a bit less than I had hoped. It's stylistically interesting, in the way a novel by a prominent white guy who has read everything David Foster Wallace ever wrote usually is, but at the expense of any heart whatsoever. Also, Mr. Lethem, it's 2016. Women are no longer merely props. If you can't write them as people, leave them out.
Alex Bruno is an international backgammon hustler. He finds that over time he's developed a "blot" that blocks his vision and begins to affect his game. It turns out that the blot is a growing tumor. It's going to take some radical surgery to correct it and he finds that a super rich/shady friend from high school is willing to fund it. After surgery, along with the tumor being gone, he finds that his game is gone as well. He has to work at his friend's dive-y burger joint to pay him back. There's a lot more here, not the least of which is Alex's self belief that he is a psychic and that those powers help him with this backgammon skills. Its a very odd tale
S: 2/1/19 - 2/16/19 (16 Days)
Having said all that, I did still enjoy the story that was told. I just wish it had been more clear and precise throughout the story.