Review: The Bookie’s Son

The Bookie’s Son
by Andrew Goldstein

Product Description (from
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 came to me from the publicist, who described it as a “coming of age” novel, which it is, in that protagonist Ricky Davis, whom we first meet when he’s borrowing his grandmother’s false teeth to play-act with (and what kid hasn’t been tempted to do the same?) goes through a lot of life lessons, including his Bar Mitzvah, over the course of the book, but to me, it read like a dark comedy as well, because even though the situations were often grim (Ricky watches his father collect debts on behalf of a crimelord, etc.) they’re treated with an all-too-human sense of humor.

That balance of humor and drama is one of the things that makes this novel sing, but another is the author’s use of language. I grew up in a culturally Catholic, New Jersey Neopolitan family. It’s a culture that speaks with a very specific rhythm, enhanced by the use of Italian terms and local slang. Goldstein’s book is set in the Bronx in the 60’s, in a Jewish family, but that, too, has a very specific linguistic rhythm, which can be difficult to capture on the page. And yet Goldstein has, to the point where the reader – or at least this reader – can hear that slightly nasal Bronx accent, hear the faint Eastern European accent in the Yiddish words, hear the kids using their street language among themselves, and slightly better language at home…and you are there. There among the clattering dishes, ringing telephones, guys (most likely in scary plaid pants) calling to place bets…sure, his descriptions are good, but it’s use of language that really puts you in the scene.

I have to confess, that it’s Ricky’s MOTHER I was most drawn to – maybe because I’m a woman, or maybe because I want to know more about the process that makes a person willing to sacrifice herself (not her life, but her SELF) for others. Sure, she’s drawn a bit like a comic character, and in other hands her job as the assistant to a theatrical lawyer who handles clients like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe would be written for pure hilarity, but in Goldstein’s hands, she has this lovely pathos to balance the preposterous-ness, and comes across as vibrant and interesting.

While I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen this book from the shelf in a bookstore, I’m really glad I crossed paths with it, because The Bookie’s Son is a great story about people who are as real as any of us, leading gritty, funny, earthy, HUMAN lives. Also? It can’t be said enough: the dialogue is to die for.

Goes well with: blue Jell-o, or a chocolate egg cream, but not together because that would be gross.

The Nanny Diaries

I just finished watching The Nanny Diaries, the movie based on the book by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Klaus, and starring Scarlett Johansson .

While I thought the book was delightful, and enjoyed the movie as much for the story as for the luxury homes in Manhattan where it all took place, I’m never entirely satisfied with book-to-movie translations, because when I read I’m immersed in a story, but when I’m watching something, I’m merely observing it.

That being said, Laura Linney as Mrs. X was fabulous, seemingly cold, but with vulnerability beneath the icy veneer, and Paul Giamatti as the mostly-absent Mr. X was simply perfect, and Donna Murphy was believable as Annie’s mother, even if her New Jersey accent was horribly inconsistent. Young Nicholas Art, as Greyer, the child in the film, was also very good – very much a natural kid.

Where the film excelled (other than at marketing CitiGroup, whose iconic red umbrella was used throughout the film) was in capturing the spirit of life in New York, where small kids really DO know whether something is on the East or West side, and how much there are distinct sub-cultures within it, changing from block to block.

If you haven’t read the book, see the movie first or you might be disappointed in the condensation of the story, but you will not be disappointed in the way they presented the spirit of the novel, or the city in which it all takes place.