Review

Jackpot

by Tsipi Keller



Do you know the novels of Jean Rhys? So many don't. And that's
criminal --- Rhys was one of the greatest storytellers of the last
century. She knew all the big names. Had all the right praise. Why
is she now considered only a cult favorite? Because her narrators,
all of them female, were losers. They lived in cheap hotels and had
bad attitudes and couldn't get work and had married lovers and
smoked and drank too much --- they were train-wrecks. Reading about
them was like pressing on a black-and-blue mark: a specialized
pleasure. Easier to turn away.

JACKPOT, Tsipi Keller's third novel and the first book in a
trilogy, reminds me of Jean Rhys like no book I've read in years. I
love Rhys; that's high praise. It's also a consumer warning: This
book is a study in self-destruction. It's addictive, intense --- a
psychological page-turner that doesn't miss a beat. It's sexy as
hell. But, for readers who like their fiction as crisply edged as
their lawns, it's much too disturbing for the beach or daily
commute.

The main character is Maggie, a drab second-banana of a woman, a
26-year-old junior editor who's right where she ought to be in life
--- in the shadow of others. We first see her in jeans and a
sweater, in thrall to her friend Robin, voluptuous and rich in a
cashmere turtleneck and leather mini-skirt. It's easy for Maggie to
flash a fantasy of Robin pleasuring a man; it's impossible for her
to say no to a vacation that Robin proposes on Paradise
Island.

Off they go to the Bahamas. Maggie hopes to loosen up, to be more
like Robin, to pick up men by the pool or in the casino and, after
a night of hot sex, casually discard them. The good girl gone wild
--- it's the fantasy of any number of good girls, and, as we start
to see it unfold, we cannot help but get an uneasy but irresistible
tingle.

We can see danger ahead. And we want that danger --- we want to see
Maggie experiment, to act out on our behalf, maybe even get
"defiled." And then we want the glorious resolution, the moral
breakthrough, the nice 19th century ending that makes the book like
an amusement park ride --- a sexcapade with a happy ending.

No such luck. Robin disappears from the book almost as soon as the
women reach the Bahamas, and Maggie's on her own. She's not up to
that; the book is an account of her free-fall. I could be specific
here --- I could press on those black-and-blue marks to titillate
those of you who have those appetites --- but I'd rather be vague
and talk about the writing: You gobble these 196 pages, wallowing
in every last degradation, every wrong turn, every misfiring
synapse.

And when it's over? Maggie's in a zone you wouldn't have predicted.
And so are you. Proof, I'd say, of an exceptional work of
fiction.

Reviewed by Jesse Kornbluth on January 22, 2011

Jackpot
by Tsipi Keller

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Spuyten Duyvil
  • ISBN-10: 0972066217
  • ISBN-13: 9780972066211