Reviewed by Chris Bolton
If you're at all familiar with Kitchen Confidential author Anthony Bourdain, you'll probably expect a lot of food in The Bobby Gold Stories. And you'll get it. But you'll also get broken bones, heavy drinking, hardcore screwing, and more than a few dead bodies and flying bullets -- which, come to think of it, fits Bourdain just as well.
The Bobby Gold Stories is a novel in brief, punchy chapters that aren't quite short stories (the title is inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Pat Hobby Stories, a book that actually was a collection of short stories). The titular hero, Bobby Gold, starts off as a very unlucky 21-year-old who has been pulled over by the police with three kilos of cocaine tucked under his spare tire. Bourdain grabs the perfect little details that turn a horrifying moment most of us cannot imagine into something tangibly, eerily comprehensible:
[Bobby] would not be sleeping with Lisa tonight -- that was for sure. He wouldn't be lying in the bed they shared in the Stimson Dormitory, listening to Brian Eno and sniffing Merck cocaine and smoking hydro. Lisa would not, later, when the quaaludes kicked in, look him in the eyes and turn up the corner of her mouth in a dreamy smile while she sucked his cock. Not tonight. Tonight he was going to jail.
Not surprisingly, a ten-year prison stretch doesn't do much to straighten out this wayward young man; instead, Bobby builds up his body and makes his first kill to scare off would-be attackers. Since the skills (and size) Bobby picked up in the joint are perfect for a life of crime, he goes to work as an enforcer for Eddie, an old friend with mob connections who isn't above loan sharking, drug dealing, and other fine pursuits.
But Bobby's heart isn't in the work, as he realizes when he has to break the arm of a 62-year-old man. He lets the man pick the arm, offers his victim some Demerol in advance, and patiently chats about the seafood business while waiting for the pills to kick in. Then he has to deal with a made guy who isn't happy about Bobby's gruff treatment of his nephew, not to mention working security at Eddie's club -- and Eddie himself isn't holding his drugs too well these days, leading Bobby to wonder how much longer either of them has before they're staring up at the freshly packed dirt of their own holes in the ground.
That's when he meets Nikki, the "saute bitch" whose idea of romance could be right up Bobby Gold's alley:
"I even waxed my cat," she said, an unbecoming half laugh, half derisive snort escaping from her mouth."Your what?" said Bobby -- picturing his own cat, shorn of hair, trying to imagine her putting up with such a thing.
"My pussy, jerk," said Nikki, lowering her voice. "First date and all. I wanted to make a good impression."
And so she does. But if you think these lovebirds are headed toward a storybook ending, you aren't familiar with Bourdain's ouvre.
Equal parts Elmore Leonard and The Sopranos, The Bobby Gold Stories is a surprisingly flavorful confection that's perfectly spiced with a dash of pure Bourdain. Short and savory, the novel isn't even 200 pages long, yet will leave aficionados of smart, funny, gritty crime stories (and the loveable lowlifes who populate them) perfectly satiated.
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