June 2014

John Wilmes


Never Love a Gambler by Keith Ridgway

One hopes that Keith Ridgway, author of the terrific Never Love a Gambler, can avoid too many mentions of genre play. The Irish novelist seems destined toward a wider audience in America as New Directions releases this collection of three ample stories, following the success of his novel Hawthorn and Child. Each of these pieces slowly, purposefully reveals its foundational facts, but Ridgway's style is more in vein with his country's modernism than with any pulpy mysteries. What he leaves unwritten, but somehow draws our eyes to, is metaphysical stuff: humankind's tragic, everyday agreements with evil in the name of lifestyle; the limits of love; the mistrust of a swindling society; the sweat we're forced to pour enacting someone else's vision.

The collection begins with Dodo and Jimmy ambling about, looking for lost family in pubs and on sidewalks in the titular story. Finely-tuned, funny dialect may even give the impression of folly -- but as the details emerge the book begins its crescendo into darkness. A dog described as "an awful nightmare... a cur, who strolled by with something dead in the clamp of his jaw" becomes an omen of Ridgway's oppressive world. Read on and well-financed men will come to scrawl murderous instructions on henchman's hands, innocents will be skinned, lovers will be stolen in the name of debt.

But this carnival of seedy grotesquery depends little on showing us its events, scarcely hunting our attention by withholding the logistical. The compulsion to read through follows from the author's liquid prose, the rare logic in his sentence-to-sentence progressions. The abstract set of rolling dice on the book's cover acts not as stock crime imagery, but as an earned metaphor for the cruelty of bad luck, that restless Irish bogeyman. Ridgway's organic, knifing way with milquetoast pain is his main event.

His final act, "Ross and Kinnder," shows us a narrator hollowed of the human sensation associated with the wild violence of his killing vocation. Like the teller of Camus's The Stranger, Kinnder paces through his deeds with the detachment of someone merely reading about them. He finds no meaning in his action, remarking mid-murder that "I was seeing what I always see -- that whatever horror takes place in the world, it is never enough. It will be puffed up until it shocks, and so the audience writes the plot, demanding teeth marks."

Perhaps the most lasting of Ridgway's disturbing oddities is the obtuse rationale professed by this mercenary's employer, Ross. Seldom is there a stronger illustration of class disparity than Ross's evocation of "the skin of God" to buttress his repugnant designs. Kinnder, his agent, must simply do the work, regardless the nature. "But what was written on my hands had to be obeyed[,]" he says. "[O]r I would have no money." Imagination made real is a privilege only for the rich, and the acts of its dirtiest details provide moral weight the rest of us can either bear or, like Kinnder, forget about.

Intertextual references -- easy to miss, and unnecessary to retain for any comprehension purposes -- are made from story to story to further glue the three stories' thematics together. Ridgway is generous and careful in his structure; that these works are placed adjacent to each other is essential, as is their sequence. They blur to one, and Ridgway's work is a pillar of hurt and intrigue for everyone who likes language, parable, story, world-making, writing. 

Never Love a Gambler by Keith Ridgway
New Directions
ISBN: 978-0811222945
84 pages