Tuesday, June 14, 2011
THE CARDTURNER by Louis Sachar
The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
Delacorte Press, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher
My mom is a bridge player. When I received this review copy, I immediately sent it to her to get her opinion. I told her she could share it with her book-loving bridge-playing friends as long as she always knew where it was and could send it back to me if I needed it. She loved it. 8-10 other ladies in my hometown area (not all bridge players) have read it, too. They didn't all love it (one had a problem with the profanity, but the best anyone can tell, and I think my mom reread the whole book to try to find all the profanity, Alton says "Jesus Christ" once in the book -- and I just found a hell; and one didn't think it was well-written) but one lady who is on the library board is going to recommend it for purchase for the public library, and one of Mom's best friends is going to read it one more time before she gives it to her bridge-loving middle school-aged grandson.
It seemed perfect to finally read this book while I was home visiting Mom. Even though I've grown up around bridge playing, I still nodded knowingly when Alton's friend Cliff describes bridge as "a card game little old ladies played while eating chocolate-covered raisins." I remember those raisins well. And that's about how deep my knowledge of bridge goes.
Here's the surprising thing -- as much as Mom and her bridge-playing friends loved this book as insiders with a deep knowledge of bridge, I loved it as an outsider with a shallow, chocolate-covered raisin knowledge of bridge.
How did Louis Sachar do this? How did he write a book about bridge that is accessible to all? He had two aces up his sleeve (and I AM aware that that's the wrong card game metaphor, but at least it's a card game metaphor):
1. Great characters.
Although the plot of the book is driven by the game of bridge, Alton is a funny, likable main character who speaks directly to the reader. He starts the book with zero knowledge of bridge, so readers like me do not feel alienated from the very first page. Alton's great-uncle Trapp, the blind bridge player for whom Alton turns cards, is a complicated man -- cranky and particular, philosophical and funny, miserly with compliments but generous with the wealth he's accumulated...generous in cranky, particular, philosophical and funny ways. Alton's parents are complete creeps -- money-hungry, greedy creeps. Think Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. Alton's 11 year-old sister needs her own book so she can really shine, and there's a love-triangle sub-plot featuring Alton, his friend Cliff, and schizophrenic Toni. (I know that sounded flip, "schizophrenic Toni," so I should say that even though Sachar needs a character who hears voices in her head to drive the bridge plot at the end of the story, his treatment of a schizophrenic character is very respectful -- think Schneider Honor Book good.)
2. Permission to skip the complicated explanations of bridge.
I love it that Louis Sachar gives us permission to do what good readers already do -- skip the parts that don't make sense to us as long as we hold onto the main story line. He gives the reader a whale symbol (it's a reference to using this reading strategy with Moby Dick) when he's going to tell the details behind the bridge plays in the story. I mostly took him up on skipping -- or at least skimming -- those parts, but the writing was so entertaining that I didn't want to miss anything by skipping them entirely. That's good writing. Sachar also got me hook, line, and sinker (I know, I know...it's a fishing metaphor, not a card-playing metaphor) with his imaginary bridge expert, Syd Fox, who does a running commentary on the story in the appendix. I thought he was a real expert! This makes the appendix even funnier, and gives me another character to love!
Here's the most amazing thing -- this book makes me maybe...someday...don't get your hopes up, Mom...a little bit interested in learning to play bridge.