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Pocket Kings [Kindle Edition]

Ted Heller
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In this dead-on satire of online obsessions, a novelist with writer’s block finds a new—and very lucrative—stream of income in a virtual world that appears to give him everything he lacks in the real world.

When Frank Dixon, a frustrated writer who has seen his career crash and burn, decides to dabble in online poker, he discovers he has a knack for winning. In this newfound realm, populated by alluring characters—each of them elusive, mysterious, and glamorous—he becomes a smash success: popular, rich, and loved. Going by the name Chip Zero, he sees his fortunes and romantic liaisons thrive in cyberspace while he remains blind to the fact that his real life is sinking. His online success, however, does not come without complications, as he comes to realize that his “virtual” friends and lovers are, in fact, very real, and one rival player is not at all happy that Mr. Zero has taken all his money.

Heller’s cautionary tale is continually surprising and startlingly real, a tour de force of satirical storytelling in the vein of Jonathan Tropper and Sam Lipsyte.

Editorial Reviews


“Heller’s novel about a failed writer offers an unlikable protagonist, vivid writing and a comic depiction of our most disgraceful inner states.”—The New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice list

“Highly entertaining . . . Pocket Kings is, in spirit, the comical sequel to Frederick Exley’s Fan’s Notes, the classic and psychologically tragic depiction of machismo mediocrity.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Ted Heller’s brazen, often hilarious and always disturbing new novel, Pocket Kings, is a hybrid love letter and suicide note to 21st-century publishing . . . What seemed at first to be a smart if limited satire about publishing and online gambling becomes an illuminating and fully realized story about identity and reputation in the digital age. At its best, Pocket Kings explores authentic existence and the desperate extremes to which a man will go to be recognized in an industry that he, like so many others, despises and loves.”—The Washington Post

“[A] recklessly funny, sparky satire of our obsession with the virtual world.”—Vanity Fair

“Pocket Kings is the kind of reading fun that offers nutritional value and not just empty calories. Ted Heller’s third novel is a satirical, charming literary ride.”—Buffalo News

“A poignant, funny satire ... Heller’s prose is razor sharp and his cultural reference points are spot on. In fact it’s all so believable that you have to wonder about Mr. Heller’s own online poker credentials. Watch out for him at the virtual tables.”—CultureMob

“Heller (Slab Rat, Funnymen) seems to have inherited the satire gene from his father, Joseph.”—New York Post

"The pace is fast, the plot twisty, and the satire bites viciously."—Library Journal

"Laugh-out-loud funny . . . There is a certain Everyman quality to Frank, whose hopes gradually fade away but whose self-deprecating humor helps carry him through his midlife angst and denial of addiction; you want to wish him well."—Booklist

“A well-crafted and entertaining satire.”—Publishers Weekly

About the Author

TED HELLER is the author of Slab Rat, which GQ magazine called “diabolically witty” and the Washington Post called “uncommonly smart, funny, and dead on” and named as one of the 10 best novels of the year. He is also the author of Funnymen, which the Guardian of England called “a masterpiece of comic invention” and the Times of London called “one of the most satisfying books in years.” Previously a senior writer at Nickelodeon Magazine, Heller lives in New York.

Product Details

  • File Size: 615 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (March 27, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0074QXBTK
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,409 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I literally laughed out loud many times while reading this book -- especially the "road trip" sections. I laughed so hard I woke up my husband. This is a great skewering of both online culture and the publishing world. I never played poker, but after reading this book I feel the need to learn, then go to Vegas and win a ton of money. Bravo to Heller. Another hysterical and frighteningly real satire. Looking forward to more books.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've read all year March 22, 2012
I loved this book! Pocket Kings is a hilarious tour de force that had me laughing so hard I was literally grabbing people around me so I could read Frank Dixon's rants to them. Not only is it the funniest thing I've read in years, but the book is a solid page turner with great characters and a compelling, twisty story to boot. Anyone interested in contemporary literature and/or feels its discontents will find succor in the pages of Heller's book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Ted Heller has done what sounds impossible. He's written an engaging and funny book about online poker, a game where people sit in glorified chat rooms with avatars and watch a few cards pop up over and over again.

Frank Dixon (no relation to the Frank A Dixon who never existed but had his name on Hardy Boy Books) is the author of one well received book, another that tanked, and a wealth of ideas for the Great American Novel that he is dying to get published. His agent won't talk to him, his books are dropping like a rock on the Amazon sales chart, and Dixon gets increasingly desperate as his aspirations dashed as he watches other lesser (in his mind) authors succeed.

Frank soon sinks himself into the world of online poker where he meets a wealth of motley characters who soon become more important than his actual life. And most importantly, Frank keeps winning. Tens of thousands of dollars.

Frank plows ahead playing poker while trying to sell his new novel Dead On Arrival, a bleak novel nobody wants, and his mood becomes more dour and desperate while he just keeps winning, always setting a higher dollar threshold for when he'll put down the computer and write again. But each day draws him more into a world of foreigners, locals, and even a virtual mistress that he vows to meet in person. And with each turn, as his online poker winnings grow, his professional life faces an ever increasing stack of hilarious humiliation.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars most fun i've had in bed this year! March 25, 2012
at last someone has captured the schizophrenic fallout of the internet driven life. heller is a terrifc writer. and he has skewered us all with his tale of an anti-hero who escapes his disappointing reality by morphing daily into chip zero, a virtual poker king who manages to earn a better living as an avatar than as a flesh and blood novelist. i laughed and cringed (with recognition) as i gobbled up this well crafted, darkly comedic prose. the characters are amusingly flawed and realistically disappointing. in other words: wonderful. the most fun i've had in bed this year!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars failure is fantastic April 8, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Laugh out loud is not usually something that attracts me to books. Good thing I ignored my instincts and read this - I did laugh out loud and enjoyed every minute. The characters are funny, with just the right amount of depth to keep them interesting but keep the pace flowing. Our hero is, well a mess, but one we can relate to and root for. I know nothing about poker, or, really about publishing, so I can't tell you how realistic any of it was, but it made me laugh and, when it was over, I was wanting more.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Pocket Kings" is a delicious panic March 26, 2012
Ted Heller's "Pocket Kings" should usher in a new online acronym, a twin to LOL called "ROL" for "Reading Out Loud"**. As the professional jealousy of Heller's flop-sweaty Frank Dixon spread and bloomed like black mold, I developed an increasingly urgent need to share aloud more and longer passages from the book to the point that I could have been named the runner-up narrator for the audiobook.

I can't think of another author who can make me laugh with references to "In Cold Blood". Or Fantastic Four's The Thing. Or Joyce Carol Oates.

Heller's protagonist Dixon remains fully (and painfully) three-dimensional whether as the avatar of an online poker player or as a member of a hapless group of road trippers. It's hard not to root for Dixon, who is a compelling combination of the panic-stricken "Out of Towners"-era Jack Lemmon and self-righteously furious "Network"-style Peter Finch, with a little "Twilight Zone" Everyman thrown in to keep it ominous.

Super-fun read. I hear George Clooney is interested in the film...

**Alternate option: ROLWAH, or Reading Out Loud While Also Howling.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
First off, Pocket Kings is truly a laugh-out-loud read. I have received an abundance of scornful looks from fellow commuter train riders who thought they were sitting in the quiet car, not the spit-take as you read car. It is really that funny.

Secondly, there is a real "message" here - actually several - but they can all be bunched together into one big WTF? What is wrong with the world? Why do people suck? How come no one READS anymore? Why is it more comfortable to interact socially online, anonymously among strangers, than with one's own spouse? And on and on.

Ted Heller has fashioned a very intelligent and savagely witty book, that takes no prisoners and effortlessly reveals its generous and rewarding nuggets to anyone lucky enough to delve into its pages. The result is a unique addition to one of the oddest and (to my mind) most enjoyable of literary niches: the slapstick tragedy.

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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good book. Worth Reading.
It's a bit slow here and there but sometimes very suspenseful too. With so many people addicted to digital this or that, if you are a forum buff, Facebook junkie or MMO gamer it... Read more
Published 18 days ago by Kkat
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
A blocked and failing writer, Franklin W. Dixon (understandably mistaken for the author of the Hardy Boys series), suddenly becomes a big success—but not with his writing. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Christopher Fahy
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for All, Essential for Writers
Hey, everyone who has ever spent as much time on a query letter as the novel it pitches: go pick up Pocket Kings. Now. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Please write more books!
This is the last Ted Heller book I've got to read. He wrote four and I read four and I am now intensely sad I have no more to read. This book is intense. It's really good. Read more
Published 6 months ago by ToddLee
1.0 out of 5 stars Save your money!
Terrible! It is painfully obvious that the author has never played poker. After reading about him "raising" unopened pots, I couldn't even finish the book.
Published 7 months ago by Chris Jarman
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious! Loony characters and online gambling. It doesn't get...
Another winner for Ted Heller. Online gambling is in all the news. Legislators are desperate to put the brakes on. The bitcoin is now traded like stocks. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Katherine A. Johnson
4.0 out of 5 stars More Like Pocket Jacks with a Joker Thrown In
I’m constantly surprised when reading negative reviews on Amazon complaining that the protagonist is unsympathetic or that parts of the plot don’t seem plausible. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Senkihazireader
1.0 out of 5 stars Seven-Deuce Offsuit
Being a lifelong poker player (live and online) and having loved Funnymen, I was really anticipating Pocket Kings. Read more
Published 16 months ago by K. Goldstein
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly Funny
Ted Heller's hilarious fictional memoir about winning at online poker while losing at everything else should have already been a bestseller, a movie starring George Clooney, and a... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Virginia
4.0 out of 5 stars It only hurts when I laugh
I'm a big Ted Heller fan. If you haven't read Funnymen, do yourself a favor and read it. Meanwhile, Pocket Kings is hilarious and horrifying. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Mr. John Guerrasio
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More About the Author

Hey, Reader, before you get to all the biodegradable biographical data below, let me tell you that as of May 2, 2013, I will have a new book out. It's called West of Babylon and it's being published by none other than me. I've got no publisher, no publicist, no marketing department, no regional sales manager. It's just me. (Although my wife DID design the cover, for which she got a $50 Gap gift card.)

West of Babylon is about a once successful rock & roll band that's been together for almost forty years, through thick and thin. (Lately, though, there's been a lot more of the thin.) One of the band members has fallen seriously ill, another wants to break up the group for good, and they decide to take to the road one more time. I think West of Babylon will make you howl and cry at the same time. That's what I was doing as I was writing it.

I hope you will buy, read, enjoy, and then spread the word about West of Babylon. YOU are my advertisers!

And now back to my regularly scheduled bio:

* * * * * * *

Ted Heller: born in, raised in, beaten up in, arrested in, still lives in New York City. I've had three books published: Slab Rat, Funnymen, Pocket Kings. The exact number of books I have written which have NOT been published is known only to God: I myself lost track about twenty novels ago. Or maybe it was twenty-four.

According to the latest data on Amazon, 79.2% of my readers love my books, 10.3% don't, and the remainder really wants to kill me. Oh well. You can't win them all.

I have held many jobs in my life but being an author is my favorite. You get to make your own hours, begin and end when you want, be alone and snap at anybody who interrupts your writing or your napping, and after about thirty years of this you are immune to rejection, bad reviews and lousy sales. WHAT A LIFE!

I have worked at the New York Times as a menial copy boy, in the clothing business, been a messenger, worked in the magazine business (Spy Magazine, Nickelodeon Magazine). I often tell people I was a towel boy at Plato's Retreat in the Seventies but this is not true.

Many of the things I write about are the result of either personal experience or serious daydreaming. Readers and reviewers often say that I make them laugh out loud. I love hearing that! But sometimes the stuff that I write that makes you laugh out loud is stuff that actually happened to me that wasn't so funny at the time. But I guess this is what the creative experience is all about. Maybe. What do I know. I also sometimes hear that characters I've created that are based on me are not likable. My wife and child, though, seem to love me and so do my friends and strangers on the street. So this confuses me.

I invite you, the potential reader, to hop aboard the accident-waiting-to-happen that is my literature. Thank you for coming and please sit back and enjoy the ride.

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