|A picaresque novel about the Halloran family who live by grifting. Charging lunch to their room in a hotel where they aren’t staying and winning a fabulous yacht in a game of poker are the high points, jumping out of a window to avoid getting killed when accused of cheating and worrying about being eaten by sharks when the yacht is sunk are the lowpoints of this lifestyle. The author, a writing professor who claims to have learned about gambling from his family, presents a believably unpleasant view of the world that these “card sharps” inhabit. Well, it is believable to ME at least, which may not mean much as I know almost nothing about that world for real. |
On the other hand, when Charles Halloran falls in love with mathematician Lia O’Donel, and we get glimpses of her world, I find that Hawkes presentation of the life of a math professor is a bit “off”. This by no means spoils the novel, which remains gritty and gripping, but I suppose it is the very purpose of this webpage to focus on the mathematical aspects; so please forgive me if it seems I’m being overly critical. For one thing, I find it somewhat laughable the way her main concern when meeting with her students is whether they’ve chosen a topic for their papers. I think Hawkes may be projecting the problems of a creative writing teacher onto this math professor. Moreover, as she is supposed to be working on chaos theory the author has her throwing around terms like “fractal geometry” and “strange attractor” which would not really have been appearing in classes yet in the year 1971 when the book takes place. And, of course, he misuses these terms to some extent as well. For instance, for the purpose of a metaphor which suits the novel but does not really hold up well under the reality of mathematics or physics, he has O’Donel “explain” that chaos theory disproves Einstein’s conjecture that “God doesn’t play dice”....or rather shows that if he does, his dice are loaded. If I put aside my complaints about the presentation of mathematics then I must admit that this is a fine novel, but I am still a little bothered by the apparently unnecessary inclusion of a mystical element to the book whereby aspects of reality are revealed to the characters through dreams or by the ghost of Lia’s twin brother Liam.
It is interesting to note that despite stereotypes to the contrary, in this book the mathematician character is female and the more "human/emotional" one in the romantic relationship.
great story. i love well thought out s f especially from this period. nearly as good as the original "Flowers for Algernon" + some of John Wyndham's short