In the first few sentences of Scott Adlerberg’s Jack Waters (Broken River Books), the reader knows immediately that we are in a different world with phrases like “there lived a man named Jack Waters” and “other gamblers envied his consistent success, but the admired his self-control”. Adlerberg’s story is more of a fractured fairy tale, a tale told in plain and unembellished prose that holds its beauty close rather than flash flowery phrases.
Waters is a man of grace and dignity. But he gives no quarter to the impropriety of cheating and welching at the poker table.
His craven behavior made Waters even angrier. The boy had the gall to cheat in his house, and then to think he could depart unscathed. In a flash, like a panther, Waters leapt over the round oak table, scattery cards and chips. He jumped onto the boy and they fell to the floor. The others yanked at his arms and shoulders, but they couldn’t get a grip on him. Waters pushed them away. He drew from under his shirt the long retractable knife he always carried for protection, and ignoring the boy’s cries for mercy, stabbed him in the heart.
Through the help of his friends Waters leaves New Orleans for a Carribean island nation. He is warned by his friend of two things: stay out of politics and don’t play cards with the President of the country. Waters might be an exceptional poker player with the ability to read players at the table, but outside the gambling room, Waters is oblivious to those around him. This is to blame partly on his hubris and for having lived a rather prosper life. Water’s self-absorption is, often times, debilitating.
Scott Adlerberg’s Jack Waters has a Latin American feel to it, not only because it is set in a Spanish-speaking Carribean island, it is because Adlerberg the ability to introduce the absurd without agitation, the preposterous becomes normal, and the ordinary becomes poetic. With Jack Waters, Adlerberg allows the story to come to him, the words don’t force the action and its consequences, rather there is a harmony between “the book” and its pages. Adlerberg’s Jack Waters is a slow read, only so that one can cherish every word.