Publication Date: March 3, 2014
A Poker Game of Love by Alice Walsh, Sylvia and James have had a long-standing, dysfunctional relationship consisting of late night sex sessions on call and a give and take of sexual domination. James sees Sylvia as beneath him because she carries extra weight and Sylvia sees James as beneath her because he’s a musician. They’re both looking for forever on their own terms. Will they be successful or are they to go on night after night of each other.
The author, Alice Walsh, gave me a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.
The description of this novel cites that not all relationships end in “happily ever after”. The aim of the novel is to spotlight that every relationship no matter how dysfunctional is a “poker game of love” involving winners and losers. I can appreciate the author’s goal and I can say without reservation that she has shown us quite unique characters and relationships in A Poker Game of Love. I can also say without reservation that the two main characters along with a few others are truly awful and do not get any better in the course of this 269-page-novel.
Sylvia is essentially the main character of the piece. She’s a not so pretty girl who has learned to make herself appealing. Sylvia adorns herself in designer labels and good taste and plays the game so well that she has no worries about lying on her résumé as she has a stable of capable men to do the work for her. All she has to do to keep them willing is smile and flirt a little. Stephen, a man who seems to do the bulk of her work, is a long-time acquaintance and former lover who seems to know the game. He allows himself to be used for whatever reason but still seems to illogically pity Sylvia, her outlook on love, relationships and men. He seems to know all of her games and realize he is no longer part of them but does things for her even so far as to take a dog given as a gift that she doesn’t want.
James, we’re led to believe, is the one responsible for Sylvia’s destructive outlook toward sex and her own value. We’re led to believe at first that his assholishness is due to disappointment in love, but later realize his father is likely the tool that unwound the little grasshopper. James took Sylvia’s virginity and humiliated her. She, from what we understand, expected more from him than he was willing to give and ultimately settled for an emotionally abusive sexual relationship with him that honed her ability to use sex and her femininity to her advantage. This is not a spoiler as a majority of it happens prior to the start of the story. He says at one point that he pushed her to her limits expecting her to break and she didn’t. We actually see her in the novel pushing him beyond his comfort level. What began as James emotionally abusing Sylvie morphed into mutually satisfying booty calls that it’s understood will end when one or the other finds what they seek. James, to the eye of this reader, was extremely creepy in his pursuit of Karen. Convinced of his awesomeness, James wants what he doesn’t have and wants to keep what has become handy and knows what he likes. James and Sylvia are ideally matched in that they are both convinced of their awesomeness and have a remarkable ability to ignore cracks in their character facades.
Despite the copious amount of introspection from these shallow as puddle characters, they each have foils to act in place of the reader. Tonya is Sylvia’s best friend. Sylvia gives her opportunities she might not have had otherwise and essentially pays her to show up when asked. Tonya’s main function seems to be to receive Sylvia’s philosophy of love and living. She is the recipient of Sylvia’s pity because she can’t see how much better her life would be if she accepted her natural place of attracting a man and using him to her benefit. James has many people that offer him the possibility to bounce off ideas. They feedback his problem and he considers it briefly only to dismiss whatever they’ve said, but what we know he’s been thinking for a while in the course of the story.
All of this said the thing that bothered me most is that the idea that Sylvia comes from such a prominent, noted and wealthy family. We’re told that her father is Chief of Police and then landed in the honeypot by being elected the mayor of Fargo, North Dakota. FARGO. I can only surmise there was unmentioned family money or the mayor is in the making, as mayors make an average of $62,000 per year and this mayor had a butler and supported a lavish lifestyle for his daughter in New York City. While a very minor plot point, I cannot express to you, readers, how much this bothered me.
The author’s biography touts her writing style as being a cross between The Devil Wears Prada and Sex in the City. I’ve only read the former and beyond the fashion of the novel — and this novel contains a great deal of fashion styling — did not see a resemblance.
There are people who love the irredeemable asshole in pop culture and this novel will appeal to them. It is well written, gives a connected story and carries through on the promise of a winner at the end. I don’t believe for a moment, as a reader, that win will last for the character but it was an interesting conclusion. I’m sure that Sylvia would think I was simply too deluded to get the game but this was a novel that I appreciated as something different but can’t say that it was one that I enjoyed. As a reader in my early-40’s, the likely demographic for this work skews younger.
If you liked Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office, you will love A Poker Game of Love.
Alice Walsh was born and raised in the United States and currently resides in Edinburgh. A Poker Game of Love is her first novel. If this sounds like a book for you, read an excerpt and buy A Poker Game of Love by Alice Walsh on