The Bookie’s Son
by Andrew Goldstein
Fiction — (Adult)
(sixoneseven) books, May 2012
From the back cover:
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.
Ricky Davis’ father (Harry) is a bookie for Nathan Glucksman, a notorious gangster in the Bronx with two notorious henchmen. When one of Harry’s collections doesn’t go as planned, Harry finds himself giving away Glucksman’s money to a Jewish tailor instead of collecting what the tailor already owes. When Glucksman doesn’t get his money and finds out what Harry has done, Harry is forced to go into hiding, leaving Ricky to handle the bookie business and worry about how his family is going to come up with the money before Glucksman decides to kill his father. As a twelve-year-old Jewish boy, Ricky is also studying for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah during which he will become a man; but Ricky is forced to grow up and become a man sooner than his thirteenth birthday because of the situation his father has gotten the whole family into.
The Davises live in a small apartment in a relatively poor community in the Bronx. In addition to Ricky and his parents, his maternal grandmother also lives in the apartment (and she can be pretty hilarious); she’s the one who does the cooking and looks after Ricky while his parents are at work. Ricky’s parents don’t make a lot of money–and they owe thousands of dollars to Glucksman–but they still consider themselves the best family in their neighborhood and they put on a good show of being better off than they are. There is a lot of tension in the family due to dreams deferred, but when push comes to shove, they are loyal to one another and they do what they can to help each other out. I don’t know if any of this story comes from things Goldstein may have experienced in his own life as a boy, but he sure does a good job of describing what it must feel like for a family to be in this kind of situation. I didn’t just read about the Davis family’s anxiety, I felt it.
The characters are well written, too, and I especially like Ricky’s grandmother with her old world Jewish ways, ideas, and mannerisms. Even though the story has serious roots, Ricky’s grandmother brings some much-needed–although not necessarily intended–humor to the book that lightens the mood a bit and keeps the story from becoming too depressing. Goldstein obviously remembers what it’s like to be a pre-adolescent boy, because Ricky is a very believable, sympathetic character. That poor kid is dealing with so much in his life at twelve years old: taking over his father’s bookie business, worrying about money, worrying about his family being hurt or killed, not wanting to embarrass his family at his Bar Mitzvah, dealing with pre-adolescent confusion concerning sex, and not being as tough as he’d like to be in the face of physical confrontation (although he’s tougher than he thinks).
Goldstein knows how to write a good, heartfelt story, and The Bookie’s Son is an enjoyable read. Recommended.
(To learn more about Andrew Goldstein, please visit his author website.)
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I received a copy of this book from the author, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review.