The Bookie’s Son by Andrew Goldstein
Release Date: May 2012
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Publisher‘s Summary: The year is 1960 and the place is the Bronx. All twelve-year-old Ricky Davis wants to do is play stickball with his friends and flirt with the building super’s daughter. But when his father crosses gangster Nathan Glucksman and goes into hiding, Ricky has to take over his father’s bookie business and figure out a way to pay back his debt—before the gangsters make good on their threats. Meanwhile, Ricky’s mother, Pearl, a fading beauty of failed dreams, plots to raise the money by embezzling funds from one of her boss’s clients: Elizabeth Taylor. Fast-paced, engrossing and full of heart, The Bookie’s Son paints the picture of a family forced to decide just how much they’re willing to sacrifice for each other—and at what cost.
My Thoughts: The Bookie’s Son has the intimate feel of a memoir. The working-class Bronx neighborhood where the Davis family lives is described in such vivid detail I was as if I’d been there before. The first-person narration by 12-year old Ricky enhances the familiar and personal feel of the story. I sometimes felt as if I was sitting at the Davis’ kitchen table watching and listening as Grandma Rosie relayed stories of her past to Ricky and told him how to live his life. The more Ricky shared about his family and the neighborhood the easier it became to imagine the people and places he talked about. Ricky quickly drew me into his world with his sweet, caring nature, his vivid adolescent fantasies and his struggle to find the courage to save his family. I found myself laughing at some of Ricky’s anecdotes and nearly brought to tears by others, his sincerity breaking my heart. In just a few chapters I was emotionally invested in The Bookie’s Son, hoping for Ricky and Rosie’s sake, especially, that things would work out for the Davis family.
The book covers Ricky’s twelfth summer through Yom Kippur in October. Ricky’s got a lot on his shoulders: pounding, pulsing adolescent hormones; confused thoughts about girls’ bodies; ducking the neighborhood bully; preparing for his Bar Mitzvah and wondering what it means to become a man and how this is going to happen. But most of the time Ricky’s trying to find a way to save his family from the crippling debt his father owes a violent mobster. Ricky, like most 12-year old boys, wants his father, an extremely flawed, mean and inconsiderate man, to respect and love him and he wants to take away his mother’s worries. Ricky figures he’ll accomplish this by being a hero. It’s funny and sad to read as Ricky makes various plans to get the money and discovers, at 12, he doesn’t have the strength or bravery to do so.
Pearl, his mother, a narcissistic, quick-tempered, mouthy woman loves Ricky and, sadly, treats him as her best friend. Sometimes this scares him and often it further confuses him. But I think the shining light of the book is Rosie, Ricky’s grandma. Rosie is the quintessential Jewish grandmother. She has a 91-year old boyfriend she‘s called Mr. Fein for 20 years. She cooks constantly, forcing food on anyone who enters the apartment: even mob enforcers. Rosie relishes offering unsolicited Yiddish-laden advice to family and friends. She’s convinced everyone likes her because she’s so smart. She has no qualms letting her son-in-law know what she thinks of him: as a low-life, telling him in a string of unflattering Yiddish insults. She’s more sure of herself than Ricky is, and she believes she can save the family, roping him into helping with her scheme.
Much of the commentary about this book focuses on the comedy. And much of the book is funny. However, make no mistake that in the form of Nathan Glucksman, the family nemesis, a sinister force pervades this story and it is far from sweetness and light. Andrew Goldstein has set out to create an atmosphere not just of a time and place. There is fear, loyalty to family and friends and what it means to be part of a family, since all families are crazy. In the Davis Family, as in most families, there’s the good, the bad and the ugly! I was surprised at the brevity of the book and the uncertainty at the end, otherwise, Goldstein accomplishes the goals of this book with a great deal of success. I highly recommend reading The Bookie's Son!
Andrew Goldstein’s website
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review The Bookie’s Son and to Andrew Goldstein and SixOneSeven publishers for a copy of this book.