The vignettes in Shut Up and Deal
are a bizarre mingling of Damon Runyon
and David Mamet
. Mickey, the book's narrator, is always playing cards with people who have monikers such as Uptown Raoul, Hot Mama Earl, Johnny World, and Vinnie the Greek, and he himself generally wears at these card games something like "yellow pants and a green double-breasted jacket from the seventies and a green and yellow flowered shirt with dark sunglasses" in order to sucker the unsuspecting mark into maybe thinking that he is not such a good poker player and that his money can be easily won, which it usually cannot. Yet the dialogue, relecting life on the professional poker circuit, is stark and brutal, as in Mickey's advice to a dilettante who is considering following in his footsteps: "All I can tell you is that it's lonely out there, real fuckin' lonely, and your play doesn't matter so much as how tough you are and whether or not you fall apart."
The plot, like poker itself, is a transitory affair. "I been playing for over six years now," says Mickey, the narrator of Shut Up and Deal, "and I still try and start each day as a new day, pick myself off the floor and get focused." This works fine when you're sitting at the poker table, where no given hand means anything in the context of any other given hand, but readers who enjoy traditional narrative, where events have a causal relationship to the events immediately preceding, will face a stiff challenge in the unrelenting cycle of hands won and lost with no visible grander scheme of things in which player--and reader--might take solace. --Ron Hogan
From Publishers Weekly
May's speedy, coming-of-age debut unfolds in the insular, all-male world of high-stakes professional poker, where staying in the action is everything and money is just a way of keeping score. Narrator Mickey, who joins the pro circuit at the age of 21, is surrounded by a large cast of eccentrics with stereotypical nicknames like Vinnie the Greek, Fresca Kid and Uptown Raoul. They're all constantly searching for the next "big game," moving like nomads across America as if it were no more than a barren desert speckled with casino oases like the Mirage in Las Vegas, Taj Mahal in Atlantic City and Foxwoods in Connecticut. In a world where you are who you pretend to be, image, bluff and reputation are as important as talent and luck: Mickey opts for sunglasses and garish Salvation Army clothes, makes a place for himself on the circuit during the early 1990s and then feels it slipping away. As he reels off one tale after another about hitting it big or going broke, Mickey's voice rings true, his obsession, insecurity and self-delusion barely hidden beneath a thin mask of bravado. Yet the price for accuracy is a lot of jargon: rudimentary knowledge of poker is not enough to understand the repetitive, blow-by-blow accounts of games like 10-20 Hold 'em, Pot Limit Omaha and Seven Stud Hilo. "There is no reality away from the poker table," Mickey says. He may be right, but that exclusionary attitude will keep most readers standing "on the rail," watching the play without anteing a stake of their own.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.