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Eyeing the Flash: The Education of a Carnival Con Artistby Peter Fenton
Synopses & Reviews
The year is 1963, the setting is small-town Michigan. At age fifteen, Peter Fenton is a gawky math whiz schoolboy with a dissatisfied mother, a father who drinks himself to foolishness, and no chance whatsoever with girls. That's when he meets Jackie Barron.
Jackie is the unlikely progeny of Double-O and Vera, professional grifters running a third-rate traveling carnival, and he's been part of the family business since he started earning his keep as the World's Youngest Elephant Trainer. Jackie is a smooth-talking teenage carnie with his own Thunderbird, and with wisdom beyond his years.
Jackie shares Pete's way with numbers, and he has a proposition. They'll start a rigged casino in Jackie's basement and take their classmates for thousands of dollars. Pete hesitates, but not for very long. Two years later, he's working joints for the Barrons' Party Time Shows, wearing sharkskin suits and alligator shoes, and relieving the public of its hard-earned cash. He learns to hold his own with veteran con men who have nicknames like the Ghost, Horserace Harry, and Talking Tony, and colorful personalities to match. This is the world of the Alibi and the Hanky Pank, of Flatties and the mark. Amazingly, Pete Fenton has never been more at home.
But in this strange new world with its topsy-turvy code of ethics, where leaving a mark without a dollar for gas is outlawed while cheating a best friend is par for the course, the tension between teacher and student grows until Pete finds himself attempting the ultimate challenge: to out-con his mentor.
Eyeing the Flash is a fascinating insider's view of the carnival underworld — the cons, the double-dealing, the quick banter, and, of course, the easy money. The story of a shy middle-class kid turned first-class huckster, Peter Fenton's coming-of-age memoir is highly unorthodox, and utterly compelling.
"This instantly engrossing coming-of-age memoir/cautionary tale from humor writer Fenton (Truth or Tabloid?) details the author's teenage years in 1960s Detroit among the swindling, money-hungry environs of the carnival midway. The largely ignored son of an alcoholic WWII veteran, Fenton blows off an opportunity to become his high school's football quarterback, preferring to hang out with his classmate Jackie Barron and Jackie's shifty family's traveling carnival operation. Fenton is impressed with Jackie's exceptional manipulation skills, and once Fenton demonstrates an uncanny knack for numbers and memorization at Jackie's illegal basement casino, the two become inseparable. The well-paced story heats up as Fenton flees his rocky home life to work for Jackie and gets an education in the intricate chicanery of carnival work, shoplifting and wooing women. After months on the lower rung of carnival duty in Cleveland, Fenton discovers Jackie's been cheating him out of his fair share, so Fenton begins skimming cash from the games he operates. And when a new manager promotes Fenton to the higher stakes scams, Fenton and Jackie's friendship turns intensely competitive. This spirited story of obsession with the carnival's 'alternating current of greed-fed euphoria and paranoia' is at once entertaining and informative. Agent, Brian DeFiore. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This autobiographical portrait of the con artist as a young man is as delightful as it is revealing of the seamy midway underbelly." Library Journal
"Limning numerous episodes of deceit with the immediacy and clarity of a pure raconteur, he tells of moving up through the carny ranks from the floating-duck games to the genuine gambling venues....The strange, dark side of life, but a very real milieu." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] hilarious, twisted coming-of-age story." William Grimes, The New York Times
Set against the hurly-burly atmosphere of the carnival midway, this wryly humorous memoir tells of Fenton's transformation from shy, awkward teen to smooth-talking professional grifter.
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