The Poker Players by Edward Dreyfus takes us deep inside the mind of the male psyche, especially that fashioned by the era of the mid-20th Century prevailing attitudes. Growing up in the 50’s, there were two cardinal rules for men: 1/ Big Boys Don’t Cry and 2/ You Are What You Do for a Living – men are defined by their profession. Dreyfus examines these paradigms through the eyes of five septuagenarians, who all live in New York and have been meeting regularly for the past thirty odd years for their weekly poker game. When George announces that he is dating, the other four are shocked – after all, he’s married, how could he be dating? After George explains that he and his wife got divorced six months earlier, everyone begins to realise how little they actually know about their poker buddies’ lives outside of the game, despite meeting every week for over thirty years. What starts out as a pact to open up and share more with each other soon turns into a weekend away in the Catskills, where these five “buddies” will seek to open up to each other and maybe share some of the more intimate details of their lives and even long buried and frightening secrets from their pasts. Will these five “buddies” become real friends through this experience or will their instinctual, playing their cards close to their chests be the norm?
As someone who is not too far removed from the age group of these characters, the novel indeed hit close to home, for me. I was able to identify with the angst they all felt at revealing their innermost feelings to each other – hey, this just something we men of this generation, don’t do. The Poker Players was a truly inspirational read and author Edward Dreyfus has manufactured a wonderful selection of characters that perfectly portrayed the inner turmoil most men of a generation conditioned by their parents, their peers and society in general, carry inside of them. The emotion, the gut-wrenching fear of revealing your inner self and the horror these men felt at being thought less of, was palpable throughout the entire read. What I particularly enjoyed was the idea that just because these men were in their seventies, life didn’t have to be a process of “waiting for God” to take them. They were vibrant, vital, human beings who still had a lot to offer each other and society. In this world of dross, angst and division, a story like this is so uplifting and I commend the author on his insight into the emotions of men and the male psyche. This is definitely not a book exclusively for men, everyone can benefit from reading it and gain insight into the male psyche, plus it has a real New York humour and vibe, which I enjoyed. A book that lingers long in the memory after one has finished reading it, is a book of true quality and The Poker Players is very much such a book.