Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Bookie’s Son by Andrew Goldstein — 246 pgs

Twelve year old Ricky Davis is the son of a garment cutter and part-time bookie. His mother, Pearl, is a beautiful woman who is passionate in both her love and hate for the man whom she is married to. Things begin to get very dangerous for the family because Ricky’s father owes money to the mob and they are bent on collecting it, even to the point of taking Pearl as collateral. Though Ricky is supposed to be practicing for his bar mitzvah and spending time with the girl he fancies, he’s more concerned with making things right for his family. The grandmother who lives with him also wants to make things right, but each of them has their own way of doing things. Being a youth in Brooklyn during these times is no picnic, but Ricky seems to have a way of doing things that not only gives him a wealth of experience but also puts him in the midst of some shady characters and unforgiving bullies. As Ricky goes about his life trying to help his parents, he is unshielded from their loud arguments and frequent fights. In this coming of age tale, Goldstein shows us the darkness and the light in Ricky’s monumental struggle for his family’s honor and for his own freedom from a family that both emboldens and suffocates him.

I had expected this book to be very light and frothy, but in essence, this was a very gritty and dark tale. Though Goldstein takes care to thread humor into his story, the book was fiercely gripping and had me very anxious to discover the family’s fate. There was a lot about this book that surprised me, and in its own way, I believe that the book felt and read like a memoir, yet it was billed as a fiction release.

Ricky was a character that was impossible not to love. He wasn’t a tough guy or a punk, but a boy who was experiencing life as it was and who made the best out of bad situations. He was both amiable and kind and had a penchant for trying to fix problems that were not his own. Most of the time, his help wasn’t helpful at all. I truly cared about him, and through his eyes, I could see the mother and grandmother he adored and the father that seemed so staunchly mystifying to him. Here was a child that wanted to be a man, yet could not stop thinking like a child.

I also thought that the relationship between Ricky’s parents was like a battlefield, with each side mounting attacks upon the other and taking casualties. I didn’t necessarily like Pearl but I could understand where she was coming from and the idea that she held about putting her family first. She was a proud woman but not socially or financially advanced. This often left a gap between who she was and who she wanted to be. At times, I believe that she put immense pressure on her only son, and it was interesting to see that Ricky could also see this.

While Ricky’s mother was a rather easy character to relate to, his father was not. Goldstein was adept at making the reader feel the distance between Ricky and his father, as well as his distance from the reader. His way of coming up with cockamamie schemes to bring wealth to his family and pay off the mobsters made me rather angry, and I took umbrage for Ricky’s sake that these schemes never paid off. I began to see that life was a series of games of chance to this man, and that he may have been incapable of ever really relating to anyone at all. During a pivotal scene in the book, he begins to share his feelings with Ricky, but this too felt distancing and confusingly rough.

While I didn’t expect that this book would be so dark and sometimes brooding, I did fully appreciate the depth and breadth of character scope that Goldstein plied in his story, and I felt very close to some of the characters by the end of the book. The author’s skill in evoking place was also very exciting and made me feel as if I was there, looking in through a window to the past. This was a very thrilling read and one that will have a large impact on its audience. Very intriguing and well executed.

Author Photo From the Author

In my early twenties I was selected as a Bread Loaf Fellow and had my nonfiction book, Becoming: An American Odyssey published by Saturday Review Press. However, in order to make a living while writing I worked at many diverse jobs: tree planter and assistant librarian in Oregon, organic orange and olive farmer in California, school bus driver, Zamboni driver, editor, stock broker, power transformer tube winder and tennis pro in the Berkshires, and custom builder in the Boston area. I’m slowly transitioning out of construction and becoming a full-time writer. I play competitive table tennis three times a week, mentor a ten-year old boy every other week, and take care of my grandson one day a week. He fills that day with joy.

I grew up in a world that no longer exists: The Bronx 1947-1960. The Bookie’s Son, based on my childhood, was the story I wanted to tell. I have been writing The Bookie’s Son on and off for forty years.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, September 4th:Lit and Life
Wednesday, September 5th:A Patchwork of Books
Thursday, September 6th:Man of La Book
Wednesday, September 12th:Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, September 13th:The Perks of Being a JAP
Friday, September 14th:House of the Seven Tails
Monday, September 17th:Broken Teepee
Tuesday, September 18th:Life in Review
Wednesday, September 19th:Unabridged Chick
Thursday, September 20th:Two Heads Together
Friday, September 21st:Raging Bibliomania
Monday, September 24th:Fiction Addict
Tuesday, September 25th:WV Stitcher
Wednesday, September 26th:I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (Author Q&A)
Thursday, September 27th:Bagels, Books and Schmooze
Thursday, September 27th:Between the Covers
Friday, September 28th:Mom in Love with Fiction

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I passed on this one, but really need to reconsider. I think it sounds so interesting. Great review

bermudaonion said...

I've seen a few reviews of this and was under the impression that it was a true story. Thanks for setting the record straight on that. I'm fascinated with organized crime so I think this sounds good!

Ti said...

For some reason, this book does look a little gritty to me. I'm not afraid of grittiness but I thought this was a true story and grit and the truth don't mix for me. I can deal with dark when I know it's not true. LOL.

Audra said...

Great review -- you hit exactly what was so compelling about it. I really liked and cared about Ricky -- which was a surprise to me, he's not the kind of character I'm drawn to -- but Goldstein's writing was solid and warm.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Sounds fascinating! I thought it also was a true story, for some reason. Probably that picture on the cover? Anyway, sounds great!

Suko said...

This book sounds very gritty and absorbing. Thank you for the care you put into your reviews. Wonderful review!

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I'm glad to see that you really enjoyed this one even though it wasn't the book you expected it to be!

Thanks for being on the tour.

Man of la Book said...

I'm also on the tour and really liked this one as well.
Great review.

Darlene said...

I figured you'd enjoy this one. Like you, I liked Ricky which is normally unusual for me. I usually bond with female characters much more but Ricky just seemed so vulnerable at times. This is an excellent book.

Trisha said...

Sounds like a good read. I prefer dark and gritty...

Literary Feline said...

Ricky sounds like a great character, one I would like to meet. I will have to look for this book. Great review!

Lisa said...

I kept forgetting that this wasn't a memoir, it felt so much like Goldstein was channeling his own story.

Buried In Print said...

Sometimes the best books are those which surprise us the most as readers; it's quite a jump from "light and frothy" to "dark and gritty" but it sounds like it was a very rewarding reading experience all the same. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about it!

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