King of a Small World is poker player Rick Bennett’s debut novel, written specifically for a small audience of poker enthusiasts. That being said, the novel masterfully sucks you right in, at the very first page, into its world. It doesn’t matter then, if the only thing you know about Poker is it begins with a ‘P’.
Set in southern Maryland-Washington, D.C., an area known for its love of Poker, King of A Small World is an unsentimental evocation of the enigma that is the world of professional poker.
It is a smart and gritty, coming-of-age-novel about self assured narrator and ace card- player, Joe Moore. In his mid twenties, Joe is easily the best stud poker pro in Maryland and is content about remaining the best in the small world of Maryland. He also frowns upon friends and colleagues who are salaried and are ‘ tied to their jobs like slaves’.
He is forced to rethink his destiny and values that shaped his outlook all these years when he is offered a very high paying job as a casino boss, begins a brand new love affair and discovers simultaneously, that he is going to be a father, by way of an old girlfriend. The novel follows his trajectory of trying to juggle between change of responsibilities, family, love, money and his zeal to create the perfect environment for his new non traditional family, all the while trying to stay true to himself and the things he enjoys doing.
There are several instances where Joe draws parallels between poker and ‘the other games people play, away from the tables’. There are times where Joe also espouses poker themes commentaries about human behaviour and the ever shifting landscape of personal identity and existence.
For example, when Joe makes a trip to Vegas, drowning in the waves of WSOP fever, he shares his impression of the urgency and the unceasing drama of being human being played out all around him in the casinos.
There is a quote he makes that captures the essence of what it means to be a poker player.
"This is how gambling works — it fills the senses," Joe explains. "Close your eyes and listen. In a casino, you'll hear the sounds of jingling, clinking, clanging, clicking. Open your eyes and you'll see the myriad colors of lighting and carpeting and walls and uniforms, shining and bright. Taste? Free drinks and meals to any decent-sized bettor. Free drinks and cheap meals to everyone. Touch, too, is thought of. Plush carpeting, brass rails, leather chairs, polished wood. And maybe in the air, with the smoke, is sweat.
But it is the sixth sense that casinos most seek to arouse," Joe continues. "The sense of life itself. Of drama. Of story. Of passion. Of love and fear. Of power and sex. Of a moment frozen, of existence beyond the mundane, of escape from all other problems because right now your attention is focused on the money you have on the line. If time is money and life is time, then money is life. And you're gambling for it."
Such detail brings about a certain kind of immediacy in response to the scene, especially so for readers who've been inside such places.
Bennett is a poker player, so it doesn’t come as a surprise when the game fuels both the plot of the book and contributes heavily to its various themes, with Bennet drawing connections between the game and Joey's complicated life full of conflicts and relationships.
Rick Bennett’s easy knowledge of poker customs and the values that shape the poker player’s environment and psyche, make for an engaging narrative which climaxes with brisk bits of domestic and professional melodrama. An extremely enjoyable read, we at 9stacks urge you to pick up this exciting page turner, right now!
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