Monday I gave up and – with some prodding from my wise wife – went to the Doc in the Box with a bad cold & cough. A lot of other sufferers were in the waiting room, so I had a while to read. Before finishing Son of a Gun, I had dropped William Krasner’s The Gambler (1950).
Unwisely, I decided to try to finish The Gambler. Generally, I find it to be a bad policy to try to start a book after stopping. If I stopped, there usually was a sound reason. This turned out to be the case with The Gambler.
Krasner’s novel concerns a young gambler named Ben Wulfson who returns to his hometown to try to make a killing by running a dice game. Predictably, things go off track in a hurry. I tried to like this novel, but I just couldn’t.
The biggest issue with The Gambler is that Krasner didn’t want to write a conventional mystery. Instead, he wrote a mishmash that attempts to straddle the line between the serious and entertaining genres. As a result, The Gambler will please neither group of readers.
Krasner had good chops as a writer. He had a fine eye for detail and creates some deep characters. If you’re willing to sift through the dead passages, there is some fine prose. What ruins The Gambler is pacing. Based on what I read, Krasner had no idea of when to push the plot forward and went to meander in details.
Here’s a typical Krasner passage, which is literal cloudtalk –
How can you tell which way a cloud is moving? They float by in pieces, torn from the bodies of great stratus and cumulus masses, shapeless, kneaded in the wind like dough, the trailing limber veils that obscure their edges changing form even as you watch. If you see one against the whole spread of the sky you can use as guides the sun, the horizon, a hill or the sharp edges of buildings – you can use the gray shadow itself as it slides slowly over the ground. But in the narrow slot of an open skylight there are none of these things. A cloud that covers it might as well cover the earth: there is no beginning and no end, no differences in the flat shades of white. (Pp. 168-169)…
Krasner goes on with the passage, but I’ll spare you.
Over the years, Krasner produced a varied body of writing in many genres. I don’t know if he wanted to write outside the mystery genre, or if he just missed the boat on The Gambler.
By the time I left the doc, I had a handful of meds and I had decided that – after 171 pages – I was done with The Gambler. It was time to find another book.
The book that I found was entirely different – Dave Barry’s Best. State. Ever., which is about Florida. I’ll try to cover it in a separate review.
My wife and I want our daughters – E(7) and C(6) to be readers. They always get their bedtime stories (unless they’ve been really naughty).
Owing to my cold, T (my wife) handled the bedtime stories Monday. The Girls had a slumber party in C’s room, and T read two chapters from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s On the Shores of Silver Lake.
The first chapter – “Payday” – concerns Laura’s Pa almost getting beaten for not paying some workers what they thought they were owed. Fortunately, Pa’s buddy – Big Jerry – helps distract the angry mob. (The mob then goes and beats up someone else, so it might not qualify as a “clean” win for Big Jerry). The second chapter – “Wings Over Silver Lake” – is gentler. It covers bird migration and pa’s hunting for the family’s dinner.
Laura learns in the “Wings” chapter that she is going to be a schoolteacher because that’s what her Ma wants for her. The four of us had a short discussion about how women had few professional opportunities in those days.
E always giggles whenever Pa calls Laura “half pint.”