Author: Andrew Goldstein
Publisher: Sixoneseven Books
Source: Author for review
Description from Goodreads:
The year is 1960 and the place is the Bronx. All twelve-year-old Ricky Davis wants to do is play stickball with his friends and flirt with the building super’s daughter. But when his father crosses gangster Nathan Glucksman and goes into hiding, Ricky has to take over his father’s bookie business and figure out a way to pay back his debt—before the gangsters make good on their threats. Meanwhile, Ricky’s mother, Pearl, a fading beauty of failed dreams, plots to raise the money by embezzling funds from one of her boss’s clients: Elizabeth Taylor. Fast-paced, engrossing and full of heart, The Bookie’s Son paints the picture of a family forced to decide just how much they’re willing to sacrifice for each other—and at what cost.
First Sentence: "The day started uneventfully."
Oddly enough, I received this book for review because I commented on Unabridged Chick's review of it, saying that The Bookie's Son didn't necessarily sound like a 'me book.' Andrew Goldstein sent me a review request later that day. Turning down such a daring personal request is highly difficult for me. If he thinks his book can charm me in spite of my initial disinterest, then I'm willing to let it try. Well, Andrew's boasts proved correct and I was rewarded with a good read for giving The Bookie's Son a chance.
The Bookie's Son is very much a character-driven piece, as opposed to plot-driven. Andrew captures a time and a set of people perfectly, bringing them alive in my head. Though I don't know anyone like any of these people, I could hear and see them clearly in my head, right down to their Bronx accents. Ordinarily, I am not a visual reader, but he built these characters and the setting so well that I was in this instance.
My favorite character by far is Rosie, the controlling, sassy grandmother. I've realized that I really adore sassy grandmother characters in fiction. They're just so hilarious, dropping truth bombs left and right, because they're old and no longer give any fucks. It's fantastic. Rosie, despite poor vision and breasts that hang down, remains convinced of her perfection and sexiness. She's the kind of grandmother who offers food to every guest, even the toughs sent in to shake down Ricky's bookie father. Even though she's constantly critical of her family, she would do anything to protect them. I just loved her.
Ricky's mother and father are rather tragic figures, both possessed of so much potential but failing to end up as more than a couple of indebted crooks. Harry has a lot of charisma, which is how he won Pearl, beautiful and hoping to be a star. Unfortunately, Harry's addicted to gambling, to schemes, to bets. Even worse, he's not good at any of those things. The family could live quite comfortably if he just accepted his lot, worked as a tailor, and didn't try to turn their minimal amount of money into a fortune. Pearl has a good job and they could live off of her salary, I'm sure. Pearl could perhaps have been a star, beautiful and talented, but instead she married this wastrel and had two children.
Ricky entirely lacks a good, strong adult to emulate. At 12 going on 13, he is about to become a man according to Jewish tradition, but he has no clue how to be a good man. His father berates him and puts him down constantly. Lacking strength and living in a bad neighborhood, Ricky frequently runs into bullies he stands no chance of fighting, earning him black eyes and more judgment from his father. The tragedy of his tale is that he so obviously could be a wonderful man and is a good kid at heart, but he behaves the way people around him do, often ending up doing horrible things, particularly to Mara, the girl in his building who likes him.
Be prepared for some very adult themes in this book. I was caught of guard by both exceedingly violent and sexual scenes. I wasn't really expecting this slim volume to be so hard-hitting. These scenes do not feel gratuitous by any means, but, if you go in expecting fluffy, cute historical fiction, you will no doubt be horrified. Also, never borrow money from the mafia; it can only end in tears.
If you like books to really transport you to another place and time, then I highly recommend The Bookie's Son.
Favorite Quote: "Even as a child I knew that real mensches didn't go around proclaiming how wonderful they are. Real mensches looked out for others. They exuded kindness, generosity, caring. They didn't ask for anything in return. They didn't cut off arms and they didn't induce nausea."