John / Literary Fiction

A Gambler’s Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem

gambler'sAlexander Bruno hasn’t followed a run-of-the-mill career path: He makes a living playing high-stakes backgammon. He plays and beats wealthy men in Europe and has been doing so for years, but he faces a new challenge when a large blot starts obstructing his vision. He has to look around this strange blot as he plays his opponents. And if obstructed vision wasn’t enough, he sinks even lower when he passes out during an all-night backgammon game in Berlin.

Bruno wakes up in a hospital, is released, and passes out again on his way back to his hotel. This time a new doctor does a more thorough examination and breaks the news that Bruno has “a tumor of the central nervous system” that lies “between the casing” of his “brain” and his face. He is told that it is a terminal condition, but yet another doctor refers him to Dr. Behringer, a super specialist in San Francisco who just might take on Bruno’s case.

Bruno makes the trip back to the states to meet with Behringer, who agrees, due to the fact that Bruno has no health insurance, to waive his surgeon’s fee for the opportunity to conduct an experimental surgery that involves removing Bruno’s face, removing the tumor, and then putting his face back on his skull. The other bills from the hospital stay are covered by Keith Stolarsky, a childhood acquaintance of Bruno’s. Bruno has recently crossed paths with Stolarsky, who has become a filthy rich businessman in Berkeley. But why does Stolarsky want to pay Bruno’s hospital bills and even set him up in an apartment?

Jonathan Lethem’s A Gambler’s Anatomy is a fascinating book in a lot of ways, and it certainly never left me thinking, “Well, I know where this is going.” Unfortunately, I never quite figured what I was supposed to be getting out of all this. There is also a plotline revolving around Bruno’s belief that he has telepathic powers that seemed tacked on. Still, the sheer originality of this novel definitely made me want to read more by Lethem.

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