cover image Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss

Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss

Frederick Barthelme. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $24 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-395-95429-4

In the legal system, whoever tells the best story wins. But when two ""workaday English teachers""--who happen to be the writers Frederick Barthelme (Bob the Gambler) and Steven Barthelme (And He Tells the Horse the Whole Story)--gamble away their $250,000 inheritance in a few years and are indicted for conspiracy to defraud the casino where they were regulars, the tale they have to tell is far more richly complicated--and haunting--than any their lawyer could present. Their narrative seductively juxtaposes the stark loss of their parents, their family's ""psychological arithmetic"" and the ""miraculous multiplication"" of winning at the blackjack tables, moving fluently between an account of the brothers' fall into addiction and their memories of a family life that was like ""a lovely old-fashioned movie with snappy dialogue and surprising developments, high drama and low comedy, heroes and villains, wit and beauty and regret."" By turns dazzlingly canny and achingly abject, the Barthelmes, who write in a single voice, lure the reader into the intimacy of their self-deception. Intoxicated by their brinksmanship and their clever comebacks, readers will hope against hope they'll fight their way back from staggering losses. In retrospect, the brothers' gaming philosophy--""We would have been willing to win, but we were content to lose""--was sustaining in the casino's mirror world where ""money isn't money,"" although, as the authors wryly observe, it crumbled when they were awaiting a legal verdict. (Nov.) FYI: Filed a few weeks after the publication of Bob the Gambler in 1997, the charges against the brothers were dismissed by the Mississippi State Circuit Court in August 1999.