Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Note On Joseph Epstein's Out Of Action

Out Of Action, a recent short story of Joseph Epstein, a master of the form, follows the deep struggle of an addicted gambler to keep from downing in his addiction. Eddie Rothman, the gambler, goes weekly and steadily to Gamblers Anonymous, meets other addicts and the story turns on his relationship with one of them.

Remarkable in the story is the unsparing, almost dry, compelling account of the gambling life, how it drives those addicted, how life is plain and grey "out of action," how being "in action," "in the life," juices life up, gives it a raison d'ĂȘtre in the excitement big time, expensive betting generates, and how, as the losses inevitably mount, marriages and lives get laid bare and destroyed. Epstein describes how some addicted gamblers mark their shirt collars with lipstick so their wives will think money is being spent on an affair rather than on gambling, understood as worse.

The narrative prose seems expository in its account of the gambling life and the attempt to keep it under wraps. It is plain spoken and has an unrelenting matter of fact quality to it. There is artfulness in that. The blunt reality of the prose penetrates gambling's allure and conveys inevitable loss and wreckage of human life as if to say, "There is no gainsaying these unglamorous truths, which consist of the desperation, the plain desperation to which addicted gambling reduces human life." The flat, spare, unrelenting prose conveys both that plain desperation and the prosaic day by day will that is necessary to try to survive it.

I will leave it to others to judge for themselves the ultimate literary strength of Out Of Action, but, as I say, the depiction of addicted gambling is remarkable.

The story is paywalled or otherwise I'd link to it. But for anyone wanting to read it it can easily be found. Here's the abstract.


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