cover image The Education of a Poker Player

The Education of a Poker Player

James McManus. BOA Editions, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-938160-85-1

McManus (Positively Fifth Street) tracks the tribulations of boyhood with ironic humor in the seven linked stories that make up this portrait of a feisty young Catholic boy in 1960s suburban Illinois. Nine-year-old Vince Killeen searches for a sense of logic when religious mandates seem to contradict all evidence of how the world works in practice. The boy is a charmer, giving readers the lowdown on everything from deceptive communion to why it's not okay to look at nipples. As Vince grows older with each story, his initial dream of being the first Irish-American pope (to save his family from "millennia in Purgatory") becomes hard to fulfill given the presence of poker and Corvette backseat necking in these lively stories. This entertaining coming-of-age tale treads lightly on issues of guilt, opting instead to allow witty cultural references and a likable voice to carry the narrative. The title is catchy, but the most memorable scenes here don't involve much poker at all; the fun comes from discovering with Vince that sin (and life, thus far) can't always be measured in Hail Marys and Our Fathers. (Oct.)