Sunday, June 15, 2008

New York Times Book Review

I am humbled by the Gray Lady. This NY Times review of my novel is a great Father's Day gift.

Happy Father's Day, to fathers everywhere.

Thanks,

Preston
________________________________

New York Times Book Review

Sunday, June 15, 2008

ALL OR NOTHING
By Preston L. Allen.
252 pp. Akashic Books. Paper, $14.95.

Review by Andrew Hultkrans, author of “Forever Changes.” He is at work on a book about surveillance in America.

There are only two kinds of gamblers: the lucky and the broke,” says the compulsive wagerer at the center of Preston L. Allen’s casino noir “All or Nothing.”

Known simply as P (protagonist? Preston?), he’s been one or the other his entire adult life. A Miami school bus driver with a large family and an even larger jones, he squanders his paychecks and scrounges loose change from school bus seats, then loses it all at South Florida Indian casinos, mostly to slot machines, the crack cocaine of gambling. P is not above wishing for his young son’s life-threatening allergic reactions, believing the child utters winning numbers while slipping toward a coma. He plays, he loses and, with the Sisyphean regularity of the certifiably insane, he returns to play again. Above all, he lies — to his wife, his bosses, his children, himself.

Even those well acquainted with the generic vices — substances, sex — often don’t understand gambling, which seems so nakedly suicidal as to preclude the grace period of bliss and denial necessary to cultivate a deep-rooted addiction. As with Frederick and Steven Barthelme’s disarming gambling memoir, “Double Down” (1999), the chief virtue of “All or Nothing” is its facility in enlightening nonbelievers, showing how this addiction follows recognizable patterns of rush and crash, but with a twist — the buzz is in the process, not the result. “That’s what people don’t understand about gamblers,” P explains. “We gamble to gamble. We play to play. We don’t play to win.”

Nevertheless, just as he’s finally lost his family, P does win — and big. This leads him to Vegas, where he plays in big-stakes poker tournaments, sporting the requisite black Stetson of the “whale,” or perennial high-roller. Even when his fortunes improve, P senses his spiritual bankruptcy, eventually attaining a form of sobriety through solitaire. He still haunts the casinos, however, as a sort of Ghost of Jackpots Past, dispensing funds and cryptic wisdom to desperate gamblers. (That he sleeps with some of them complicates his newfound saintliness.)

As a cartographer of autodegradation, Allen takes his place on a continuum that begins, perhaps, with Dostoyevsky’s “Gambler,” courses through Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano,” William S. Burroughs’s “Junky,” the collected works of Charles Bukowski and Hubert Selby Jr., and persists in countless novels and (occasionally fabricated) memoirs of our puritanical, therapized present. Like Dostoyevsky, Allen colorfully evokes the gambling milieu — the chained (mis)fortunes of the players, their vanities and grotesqueries, their quasi-philosophical ruminations on chance. Like Burroughs, he is a dispassionate chronicler of the addict’s daily ritual, neither glorifying nor vilifying the matter at hand. Yet he never wallows like Lowry nor amuses like Bukowski. His spare, efficient prose could be called medium-boiled, but at times it seems overly casual, tossed off. While this makes for “realism” and easy digestibility, it prevents Allen from scaling the heights (and plumbing the depths) of his literary forebears.

No contemporary addiction narrative is complete without a 12th step in the third act, and “All or Nothing” follows the program, however reluctantly. At Gamblers Anonymous meetings, P refuses to sugarcoat — or fully accept — recovery: “Being rescued” from gambling “is like living death. If you believe in luck, you feel empty when you stop believing. Now you know there is no luck. ... You no longer believe.” In a curious inversion of the “Higher Power” concept — “There are no atheists in a casino,” Allen writes, in the novel’s finest line — gambling recovery entails losing faith, not gaining it.

As another 12-step commonplace has it, unrepentant addicts wind up dead or in jail. And in a novel that traces the jackknife reversals of the gambling life, it would be unwise to bet on a clean getaway for P. “Addiction is not a tragedy,” P concludes. “It is a love story with abuse in it. We love, and it abuses us.”

1 comment:

geoffreyphilp101@gmail.com said...

Dear Preston,

Congratulations!

You deserve this and a lot more...

All the best,

Geoffrey

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Editorial Reviews of All or Nothing

New York Times--". . . a cartographer of autodegradation . . . Like Dostoyevsky, Allen colorfully evokes the gambling milieu — the chained (mis)fortunes of the players, their vanities and grotesqueries, their quasi-philosophical ruminations on chance. Like Burroughs, he is a dispassionate chronicler of the addict’s daily ritual, neither glorifying nor vilifying the matter at hand."

Florida Book Review--". . . Allen examines the flaming abyss compulsive gambling burns in its victims’ guts, self-esteem and bank accounts, the desperate, myopic immediacy it incites, the self-destructive need it feeds on, the families and relationships it destroys. For with gamblers, it really is all or nothing. Usually nothing. Take it from a reviewer who’s been there. Allen is right on the money here."

Foreword Magazine--"Not shame, not assault, not even murder is enough reason to stop. Allen’s second novel, All or Nothing, is funny, relentless, haunting, and highly readable. P’s inner dialogues illuminate the grubby tragedy of addiction, and his actions speak for the train wreck that is gambling."

Library Journal--"Told without preaching or moralizing, the facts of P's life express volumes on the destructive power of gambling. This is strongly recommended and deserves a wide audience; an excellent choice for book discussion groups."—Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH

LEXIS-NEXIS--"By day, P drives a school bus in Miami. But his vocation? He's a gambler who craves every opportunity to steal a few hours to play the numbers, the lottery, at the Indian casinos. Allen has a narrative voice as compelling as feeding the slots is to P." Betsy Willeford is a Miami-based freelance book reviewer. November 4, 2007

Publisher’s Weekly--"Allen’s dark and insightful novel depicts narrator P’s sobering descent into his gambling addiction . . . The well-written novel takes the reader on a chaotic ride as P chases, finds and loses fast, easy money. Allen (Churchboys and Other Sinners) reveals how addiction annihilates its victims and shows that winning isn’t always so different from losing."

Kirkus Review--"We gamble to gamble. We play to play. We don't play to win." Right there, P, desperado narrator of this crash-'n'-burn novella, sums up the madness. A black man in Miami, P has graduated from youthful nonchalance (a '79 Buick Electra 225) to married-with-a-kid pseudo-stability, driving a school bus in the shadow of the Biltmore. He lives large enough to afford two wide-screen TVs, but the wife wants more. Or so he rationalizes, as he hits the open-all-night Indian casinos, "controlling" his jones with a daily ATM maximum of $1,000. Low enough to rob the family piggy bank for slot-machine fodder, he sinks yet further, praying that his allergic 11-year-old eat forbidden strawberries—which will send him into a coma, from which he'll emerge with the winning formula for Cash 3 (the kid's supposedly psychic when he's sick). All street smarts and inside skinny, the book gives readers a contact high that zooms to full rush when P scores $160,000 on one lucky machine ("God is the God of Ping-ping," he exults, as the coins flood out). The loot's enough to make the small-timer turn pro, as he heads, flush, to Vegas to cash in. But in Sin City, karmic payback awaits. Swanky hookers, underworld "professors" deeply schooled in sure-fire systems to beat the house, manic trips to the CashMyCheck store for funds to fuel the ferocious need—Allen's brilliant at conveying the hothouse atmosphere of hell-bent gaming. Fun time in the Inferno.

World Series of Poker

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Bio


Preston L. Allen is the recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature and the Sonja H. Stone Prize in Fiction for his short story collection Churchboys and Other Sinners (Carolina Wren Press 2003). His works have appeared in numerous publications including The Seattle Review, The Crab Orchard Review, Asili, Drum Voices, and Gulfstream Magazine; and he has been anthologized in Here We Are: An Anthology of South Florida Writers, Brown Sugar: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction, Miami Noir, and the forthcoming Las Vegas Noir. His fourth novel, All Or Nothing, chronicles the life of a small-time gambler who finally hits it big. Preston Allen teaches English and Creative Writing in Miami, Florida.