From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. National Book Award–winner Johnson (Tree of Smoke
) goes lean and mean in this slick noir, originally serialized in Playboy
last summer. Jimmy Luntz, a chain-smoking, fast-talking addictive gambler, is in the hole several grand to underworld bad dude Juarez, and he knows his kneecaps have a date with a tire iron when enforcer Gambol nabs him in Bakersfield, Calif. But perennial loser Jimmy gets a lucky break when he escapes, having shot Gambol in the leg and taken off with Gambol's cash-fat wallet. Soon enough, he meets alcoholic vixen Anita Desilvera. She's barreling toward oblivion, having been set up by her prosecutor husband and a corrupt judge in a $2.3 million swindle. As Jimmy and Anita hide out and plan a caper to get the millions, Gambol and Juarez track down Jimmy and learn of the big money at stake. Fates collide in the brutal last act, and, naturally, not everyone makes it out alive. With its crackling dialogue and mercilessly bleak worldview, this stark and darkly funny chronicle of a four-way race to the bottom is a testament to Johnson's sublime sympathy for lowlifes. (May)
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So noir it’s almost pitch-black, this follow-up to Johnson’s National Book Award-winning “Tree of Smoke” concerns a lovable loser named Luntz—barbershop-chorus member, Hawaiian-shirt wearer, and inveterate gambler—who is in debt to an underworld bad guy. “My idea of a health trip is switching to menthols and getting a tan,” he tells Anita Desilvera, a beautiful Native American woman whom he beds after a boozy night out, and who has bad guys of her own to escape. Against a desolate Western background of shantytowns and trailer parks, the pair’s story plays out largely according to the genre’s dictates, with wisecrack-laden dialogue and evenly dispersed cliffhangers that are a legacy of the work’s genesis as a serialization in Playboy. But there are also moments of arresting lyrical beauty—a river’s swollen surface under a crescent moon “resembled the unquiet belly of a living thing you could step onto and walk across.”
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