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Story366's Michael Czyzniejewski details a fond connection between himself and James McManus, author of The Education of a Poker Player, in a wonderful new review.

"I was able to read a hefty story by James McManus from his collection The Education of a Poker Player, out from BOA Editions," he says. "I knew McManus by reputation, as he’s a bestselling author and a celebrity poker player . . . I found out that McManus was Catholic kid from the Chicago suburbs, just like me, and The Education of a Poker Player isn’t about learning poker (at least not early on), but about McManus growing up Catholic, almost becoming a priest, and then moving on to poker and other such sinful pursuits later on. The first story of the book is fifty pages long and called 'Altar Boy,' and as soon as I got started, I knew I’d found my story."

He continues, "The story 'Altar Boy' is a practically stream-of-consciousness telling of Vincent’s life as a Catholic kid in the early sixties. The story is in first person present and jumps from scene to scene, life event to life event, seamlessly and effortlessly. We have touchstones, however, that become themes."

Not only does Czyzniejewski praise the book's plot, he commends the development of voice throughout the short stories: "The real glory of 'Altar Boy' is the voice that McManus employs for his character, this really sincere kid who just wants to figure out life, maneuver through the tough parts, enjoy the better days. He’s unreliable in that he buys all of the Catholic doctrine—and there’s a lot of it—hook, line, and sinker. In fact, it’s Vincent’s stern belief in the threats bestowed upon him by the priests and nuns in his parish that initiate the overall plot of the book, Vincent’s interest in becoming a priest.

"I found myself so attracted to 'Altar Boy' (wait, I should rephrase that . . . ) because I had a similar upbringing, growing up Catholic and Polish (instead of Irish) in Calumet City, not far from McManus’ Lisle, and a lot of the malarkey that McManus was fed—e.g., the difference between the flames in purgatory and the flames in hell—was fed to me. . . . So, a trip down memory lane, guided by a brilliant storyteller."

Click here to read the full Story366 review.

The Education of a Poker Player is available at the BOA bookstore.


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