Tuesday, May 03, 2011

[Books] Book Look: Lay the Favorite

Book Look: Lay the Favorite, by Beth Raymer: This was a fun book that appealed to the gambler in me. It's a memoir of a girl's rather oddball way of coming of age. Her plans to work in her boyfriend's family restaurant crash along with their relationship so Beth finds herself broke and rudderless. She wanders into a couple sleazy occupations: An in-home erotic dance service although she never drifts into having sex with her customers, and pornographic modeling, although she never actually poses for other people, she takes pictures of herself and photoshops herself into sexy twins. (At this point, I have to admit my BS detector went off. It seems awfully convenient that she could skirt the outer edges of prostitution and pornography yet manages never to cross the line into becoming "one of them". But that may say more about my cynicism than her candidness.)

In search of better work while waiting tables in a diner, one of her customers sends her to meet a professional gambler named Dinky. There begins her foray into the semi-legal world of sports handicapping. We are treated to a fascinating review of Dinky's life -- how his gambling got started, how it progressed from picking winners to making book, how he skirted the law, how his operation in Las Vegas functions. Beth starts out as essentially a gofer, but in time is taking bets and making six figure cash exchanges. All this is set in the halcyon days of Vegas before the crash -- it was like catnip to me.

When Dinky's operation starts to get in trouble Beth moves on from there and gets involved with a new corporation running an internet sports book out of the Caribbean. Her things get even stranger what with political unrest, rampant hookers, gang threats. It too eventually folds.

In the end, Beth actually rips off a fairly large sum from a lying, dirtbag gambler and heads for somewhere warm, presumably to write this book.

Lay the favorite is lively and good humored. It is an especially entertaining variation on the first book that everyone has in them somewhere concerning how they came to find a place in the adult world. Much of its charm lies in the characters who float in and out like comic book gangster wannabes and assorted operators of various stripe.

It is flawed in number of ways, however. First, from a gamblers perspective, it portrays absolutely nothing of what's involved in running a successful sports book. We are told these folks follow games and research obsessively, but we are given little on the process of how it is done or what they are specifically looking for. At one point Raymer throws out a bit of psychology suggesting that at the core of all gamblers is a powerful desire to lose. This is a sharp and accurate insight from my experience, yet we are given absolutely no follow up on it, she simply returns to describing the events of her life.

More importantly from a dramatic perspective, over the course of the book Beth goes on a journey to nowhere. At the outset she is a lost, capricious, morally confused girl. At the end she is a lost, capricious and morally confused girl. The overall sense is that we were just treated to a string of interesting events with no real point. Not that it makes the book unenjoyable. As I said at the outset, it was a fun read and if that's enough for you, then the answer to the question "Should I read Lay the Favorite?" is yes.

By the way Lay the Favorite is being made into a movie. The character of Dinky is being played by Bruce Willis. In the book, Dinky, is a huge, hideous, obese slob. Of course, that wouldn't play in Hollywood, so you get Bruce Willis. God only knows what they're going to make of this. Sounds like it might be related to the book in name only. Typical Hollywood, eh?