Synopses & Reviews
Marking the debut of a gifted new writer, The Bookmaker teems with humanity, empathy, humor, and insight.
At the heart of Michael J. Agovino's powerful, layered memoir is his family's struggle for success in 1970s, '80s, and '90s New York City—and his father's gambling, which brought them to exhilarating highs and crushing lows. He vividly brings to life the Bronx, a place of texture and nuance, of resignation but also of triumph.
The son of a buttoned-up union man who moonlighted as a gentleman bookmaker and gambler, Agovino grew up in the Bronx's Co-op City, the largest and most ambitious state-sponsored housing development in U.S. history. When it opened, it landed on the front page of The New York Times and in Time magazine, which described it as "relentlessly ugly."
Agovino's Italian American father was determined not to let his modest income and lack of a college education define him, and was dogged in his pursuit of the finer things in life. When the point spreads were on his side, he brought his family to places he only dreamed about in his favorite books and films: the Uffizi, the Tate, the Rijksmuseum; St. Peter's, Chartres, Teotihuacán. With bad luck came shouting matches, unpaid bills, and eviction notices.
The Bookmaker is both a bold, loving portrait of a family and their metropolis and an intimate look into some of the most turbulent decades of New York City. In elegant and soaring prose, it transcends the personal to illuminate the ways in which class distinctions shaped America in the last half of the twentieth century.
"In the 1960s, the author's parents seemed poised to join the exodus of Italian-American families from New York to the suburbs. Instead, thanks to the chronic gambling debts of his father, Hugo, a city welfare bureaucrat who ran an illicit sports-betting operation on the side, they wound up in the Bronx at the vast Coop City housing project that became a watchword for urban anomie. Ignoring overdue bills and eviction notices, his parents insisted the family partake of the finer things books, museums, opera, European vacations all financed by bad checks and fast talking. Journalist Agovino, with an apparently verbatim recall of long, colorful conversations from decades past, paints a loving, picaresque portrait of his youth and the tension between his mother's yearning for middle-class stability and his father's faith in the big score. He sets it amid an elegy for a white, ethnic New York the old-country foods, the lovable wise guys that expired in Coop City's windswept Le Corbusierian sterility. Unfortunately, the author's family seems more eccentric than iconic, and Agovino's narrative, meandering from Caribbean travelogue to summer food-service jobs, doesn't impart much shape to their sociocultural journey. Photos. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Recalling "The Tender Bar, The Bookmaker" is a memoir of sons, a gambling father, and the ups and downs of life in the Bronx during the 1970s.
About the Author
Michael J. Agovino has written for a wide range of publications and online sites, including The New York Times, Esquire, GQ, Salon, Elle, and The New York Observer.