by Alexander J. Allison
Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2013
194 pages/ $12 buy from Amazon
2. Allison’s novel “The Prodigal” explores the nature of a man born with a silver spoon, his relationship to his parents, to school, to his best friend David and most importantly, to Poker. The protagonist’s name is Martin and you will follow him through a series physical, financial and existential crises in this portrait/cringe-theatre/road-trip/gambling novel.
3. In conjunction with reading this novel, I started playing online poker.
4. This is a very helpful companion to The Prodigal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_poker_terms
5. Three structural features of the novel include:
a) varied text size. At times a word will or series of words will appear in large, irregular font to point out a particular emotion or event. I have seen Ben Brooks do this. Is it a British thing?
b) italicized asides like “Sad shadows saddows”. These are humorous plays on words or ideas hat break the text with an unpunctuated breath.
c) Flashback chapters which operate similar to Lost episodes, connective tissues are formed showing why Martin is fucked.
6. To start, I downloaded an App simply called “Poker” onto my Ipad. I started with 10,000 dollars. What endears one about the game is just how fucking simple it all seems at first. Each individual game consists of a few small choices. There is lying involved as well as the puffing-up of chests. This is a very inhuman way to play poker, it is fast-paced, difficult to read people, and deeply anti-social. There is no ‘chat’ feature in “Poker” and most of my opponents are faceless guests. My first day into “Poker” ended with a 45,000 dollar profit.
Diary note: This game is a joke. People who play it are morons/addicts.
Three days later, I would be swishing cuticle treads around in my mouth praying to god before the river of a shitty flop. I was hounded with insecurities and sleeplessness. Poker was no longer a joke but an insipid nightmare I continued to return to. I’d entered into the realm of pay-to-play online poker and my budget had been exhausted thrice over.
Diary note: I’ll do it for the novel.
7. Martin in a casino:
“This microcosm has its own language. It’s a living lexicon. The game’s language exists to keep some fools out and trap even bigger fools in You’ll have heard of donkeys and fish, but what of the rockets? What of the fishhooks and gay waiters? What of the suck and resuck, the gutshots and wraps and double bellybusters? What space is there for a beat jackpot? What is there left to be said of tilt? Who is durrrr to you? What’s an isildur1? How would you respond to OMGClayAiken? What is life before you’ve sharkscoped Spirit Rock, nanonoko, moorman1? This language is the soul of poker. Cards are but a blunt instrument. Cards are the messy, unpredictable side note to the sport. It is cards, however which force the drama of life.
Internally, Martin is humming the Pink Panther theme-tune. This makes him feel sneaky.”
8. On 7 alone you should read this book.
9. The book says much of what many books say about being 20 is like: the depressing vacancy one achieves when the last drop of innocence leaves you. But the metaphor of poker intermingled with this prodigal/rich kid presents the reader with the quandary of: how do I root for this guy? The path I took was not so much to root, but to sit down and enter Martin and ride from one catastrophe to another. The balance of sincerity and humor comes off sardonic, but the smiles feel earned and cringes unavoidable.
10. donk bet
1 A bet made by a donk, i.e. one that is generally considered weak or to demonstrate inexperience or lack of understanding of strategy.
2 A bet made in early position by a player who didn’t take initiative in the previous betting round. It was named because this move is often considered indicative of a weak player (since it is more often reasonable to expect a continuation bet).
11. Probably the most elegant chapter in the novel is Allison’s description of a hand played by Phil Ivey. It illustrates a perfect semi-bluff from Jason Mercier followed by a perfect call from Ivey. The pot is 400k. With 7 outs Mercier is 32% to win but with fold equity against most hands he is flipping or ahead. There are 3 bets, a preflop and 3 more bets. When Mercier passes over the chips the room is depressingly silent. It’s like a child getting outplayed by a pro-athlete. It’s ‘no fair’.
12. “Ivey does not play in the manic aggressive style of his younger peers. Neither does he play the tight, conservative style of the more veteran generation. Ivey plays a style entirely of his own. Ivey seems to treat each hand as an individual moment, dismissing all the robotic complacency that many online professionals depend on.”
13. Allison goes on to describe the tension (poetically) of the youtube video showing the Ivey hand in question. It’s a literary play-by-play of five painful minutes in poker history that leaves you with the same kind of exhaustion that frustrating but climatic sex brings.
14. Speaking of sex, there are three moments of sexual tension in the book. One is homo-erotic tension between Martin and his friend David. The other is between Martin and a girl at the bar. And the 3rd is between Martin and a chubby Cambridge stripper named Glitter.
15. According to Google, 888 poker is the best venue for online ‘actual-stakes’ poker. It is basically a shitty Yahoo-games-ish java program that gives you 8 free dollars to start playing penny poker with a bunch of horny Europeans. After 3 hours in the applet I’ve accrued some 70 cents. Martin’s online poker lounge of choice is Full Tilt poker. I wish there was an online poker that was like video streaming. I want to play with people’s faces available. “Human poker”.
16. “At higher levels, though, players are more aware of the tactics of storytelling. They are also aware that you are aware of them being aware, so the levels of who is representing what when and what do they think you think are constantly in flux, making high level poker play sometimes as exciting on a visceral level as writing that takes risks (both making it, and consuming it). There is a mash up of gut instinct, rational odds, emotional texture, board texture, physical surroundings (what do the opponent’s shoulders tell you about his or her hand? what do his or her eyes? how the chips are moved? the breathing. etc., not to mention the retro-image of what each player did three hours ago, three months ago, three years, up to right now), together create a continuity of immediate and retroactive value which in sum creates an environment to be processed, reacted to, explored, and yet is as cut and dry on the base level as a sentence printed on a page. Great players can seem as if they know exactly what you are holding in the midst of a hand. The greatest players go even beyond that, as if they not only see your hand, but now will draw you down another leg of the story, cause affect to you, do you some kind of rupture. Certain kinds of play, beyond money, can affect your spirit, your persona. A great session of poker, like an exceptionally great text, can make or break your month or year.” – Blake Butler, Poker as Storytelling
17. Some lines in this novel are simply some of my favorite lines of all time.
18. I am deeply aware that there is a world and culture of poker that involves millions of people around the world. However, I am not aware of any poker fiction and certainly not by anyone from Allison’s generation. Poker seems to have so many vibrant 20 somethings playing at the top level. It’s possible this is the only book by a 20 something semi-semi professional poker player.
19. If you pay for Alexander J. Allison’s flight from the UK to Vegas, he will win your money back for you as well as serve as your personal assistant/host.
20. It’s a shame that there isn’t more well known poker fiction, or more importantly- poker players who write fiction. Essentially it is a game of fiction, if you take fiction to be a mixture of unknown portions of truth with readable fabrication. Youtube Phil Ivey or Tom Dwan if you want to see what I’m talking about. Allison’s story plays like a great hand. He flops a pair of failed suicides, bluffs his parents on money, runs away from his life without anything in the pocket. There’s an eloquent poker story here about a poker player and a dark little kid without nuts.
21. In poker a nut-hand is the strongest possible hand. In the colonial west cowboys with the best possible hands would prove it by going out and taking the nuts off their wagons and betting them.
22. A few more weeks into online poker and a few weeks away from a trip to Vegas, I am wholly terrified to playing my first game of irl poker. I’ve been warned by pretty much everybody it is a mistake. Having no actual nuts irl is probably going to fuck me.
23. “I think I’ve spent more time with The Simpsons than I have with my father,” Martin says.
“D’oh,” David says.
24. In this novel Martin posits ‘how can one desire another’s affection when some infinities are larger than others?’
25. Should you buy this book? You should go all in on this one. This motherfucker is pocket aces.