cover image A Gambler’s Anatomy

A Gambler’s Anatomy

Jonathan Lethem. Doubleday, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-53990-6

In this pleasantly bizarre novel from Lethem (Lucky Alan), a down-on-his-luck backgammon hustler returns to his hometown of Berkeley, Calif., to undergo experimental facial surgery. After a cold streak in Berlin, telepath Alexander Bruno learns of a potentially deadly tumor in his face. In Singapore, a chance encounter with a wealthy high school friend, Keith Stolarksy, who offers to foot Bruno’s medical bills, draws Bruno back to California, where a Hendrix-loving surgeon removes his tumor but permanently scars his once-handsome face. To pay his debt to Stolarksy, who’s paid all his bills, medical and otherwise, Bruno is forced to work in one of Stolarsky’s restaurants, serving sliders to faux-punk Berkleyans in a sack-like mask. This leads Bruno to a final rebellion against Stolarsky, which plays right into the benefactor’s hands. Though inventive and well crafted, the novel neither fully endears its characters to the reader nor establishes narrative momentum, playing at themes and romantic entanglements that are expertly introduced but often under-explored and discarded. The impression is of a strong poker hand played without aggression, the hunger of a player out to prove himself. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME Entertainment. (Oct.)