Weekly Portland newspaper The Portland Mercury just published a wonderful and thoughtful review of James McManus' The Education of a Poker Player. According to reviewer Ned Lannamann, "James McManus' new book doesn't have the narrative arc of a novel, but it has the soul of one. "McManus' real theme is [protagonist] Vince's Catholicism and his struggle with the burdens of religion in his formative years. More specifically, as Vince enters adolescence, the notion of staying celibate becomes less and less appealing, not to mention logical." Education's greatest triumph, the review claims, is McManus' deft exploration of the parallels between Catholicism and poker. When young Vince makes a deal with his Grandmother to pursue priesthood, "this type of bargaining rolls over into Vince's developing love of poker, which replaces his faith and familial bonds. As with Catholicism, there's a strict rulebook in poker; the hierarchy of winning hands also parallels the church's convoluted power structure. And similarly, there's quite a bit of gambling in Vince's attempts to adhere to his faith. He constantly evaluates whether certain sins are worth confessing while others aren't; naturally, there are differing amounts of penance for each sin—just as some poker hands are worth more than others ... The parallels between poker and Catholicism aren't explicitly drawn, but they're undeniable, and this undercurrent is among The Education of a Poker Player's greatest strengths." Praising McManus' treatment of his young protagonist, the review says, "McManus also does a terrific job of getting in the head of a horny adolescent boy. Finding a graceful area that's truthful without turning gross ... These high notes are strong enough that there's a bit of a hunger in the reader at Education's end. "The internal duel between Vince's faith and his fondness for vice, though, remains enough to make this a winning hand." Click here to read the complete Portland Mercury review, and be sure to grab your copy of The Education of a Poker Player at the BOA Bookstore.
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