I am in physical pain from having finished this unloved, unacclaimed, yet wonderfully written book published in 1964. The pain is partially from having closed the cover on the book, no more pages to devour, reaching the end. The pain is also from immediately hopping online to purchase a copy of the book (I filter book purchases through the library reserve first, if I like it I buy it), only to find it nearly non-existent, a handful of $75 copies lingering in the nether regions.
“Yarborough” is a hand in bridge with no face cards or cards of value. The story follows Arthur Skeleton from conception to death, mostly located in NYC but dabbling in Palm Beach, New Orleans, Europe (during WWII). Arthur is a bridge wunderkind, winning tournaments with his pal Henry at the tender age of 15, taking his winnings and spending them on prostitutes, marijuana, and drinks. Every dialogue is a verbal jousting; he takes everything as seriously as everything else: the concept of infinity is just as important as building a fire.
Arthur runs through a series of girls– La Verne (his first hooker), Jan (his step-cousin), Romaine (whom he pressed to marry him but who refused and ultimately met an untimely death), La Verne #2 in New Orleans, Willa, and finally Bets (Henry’s cousin). Henry and Arthur meet taxi driver Willston Hinshaw immediately after seeing the wealthy never-had-to-work-a-day-in-his-life Williston Hinshaw at the Club where they had dined with Arthur’s stepdad.
Wonderful writing, sparkling dialogue.
“Judy and I love you.”
“The way parents love their children! They want carbon copies. They want the kids to play the same game. They want them to shape up. Do you know what I want? I want people to love me for the dough that oozes out under the cookie cutter. I want them to love me for my bad plays, my false moves, my weaknesses, my transgressions. I want their hearts to leap when I go to Palm Beach or Southampton. I want them to know that I have no place else to go.” (p 242)
“Maybe it’ll be a girl and you can call her Willa. Willa’s a beautiful name. Nobody names anybody Willa any more.” (p 193)
“Madness is when you’re playing a different game from anyone else.” (p 357)