By John W. Cassell
My copy of Jack Engelhard’s SLOT ATTENDANT came this afternoon. As I was reading another truly engrossing novel at the time and NEVER read more than one book at a time, I set myself the modest goal of reading chapter one today, then finishing the other book tomorrow, thereafter reading this long-eagerly anticipated story solely until completion.
You know what happens to the “best laid plans….” Likely you do in Gaelic as well as English.
What happens is, here it is almost 2AM and I just finished SLOT ATTENDANT. I could NOT put it down. I could not stop until I knew as much as the author cared to tell me about every absorbing subplot, as well as learning heaps about both casinos, in which I have a certain rooting interest, and the world of writing and publishing…a world so important to me and many people I deeply care about…. not until I learned the outcome of protagonist Jay Leonard’s desperate battle to regain both confidence in and respect for himself.
Having lost both myself once upon a time, I found myself quickly empathizing with his brilliantly orchestrated struggle. I FELT for this man…Jack Engelhard is that kind of writer…superlatively combining personal experience, the experience of others, and a truly vivid, thoroughly grounded imagination to paint this compelling portrait.
My only negative thought is I wish there were more…more pages I mean…like maybe three hundred or so added to this perfectly-ended [you’ll see what I mean when you read it!] novel at page 296 or so.
No, reluctantly I must agree with the author…it ended at absolutely the right point, telling just what it should, not telling the rest. Just right.
The Reader is the King or Queen of this novel. For this is a book fashioned to the unique mind, as diverse as they necessarily are, of each and every one of its readers. Once again, you will see exactly what I mean having read it.
As with any Engelhard novel, the characters are people we’ve all met in one form or another, yet often driven into way above average moral and practical challenges calling for breathlessly-awaited responses. The dialogue is sharp and engrossing. The elements of both mystery and deeply personal conflict are introduced and compelling from the very beginning. The ending is anyone’s guess, and guess you will….it’s guaranteed.
In my preview, I opined that this would be a book with wisdom of,by and for writers. And indeed it is. Yet no wisdom was ever imparted more entertainingly…not to mention at times emotionally. The protagonist Jay Leonard shines in his moodiness…his dilemmas…his deep disappointments. He is the product of a life filled with war, boxing, hustling, martial arts, getting the story as a reporter, and playing the ponies. He is also part of a loving marriage whose partners struggle to sustain one another as they share a dream…a dream only he by his choices can ultimately make happen. His choices alone cannot realize the dream, but they could sure destroy it…and therein lies the tale.
Jay Leonard is a writer. He and his wife Melanie’s dream is rooted in his writing. Writing is what Jay Leonard personally is about…both his burning passion and the foundation for his self-respect. He had a smash-hit bestseller cum movie six years before…but now cannot get past the same string of rejections that marked his early starving days. He only beats starving now by working as a slot attendant at a casino, the bottom of the pile for someone who walked the red carpet to the applause of adoring fans at his book’s cinematic world premiere. Yet it is an identity he is becoming all too comfortable with….a comfort he ultimately knows would kill him…because he’s a WRITER.
Through his eyes we see up close and in the face the world of an employee at a gambling casino. We see what this microcasm of life itself is like, populated as it is by people who feel that life has cheated them and are there to set it all right at last…only to lose again.
Surveying his situation, Jay Leonard takes off on Julie Andrews’ bright-eyed saying in SOUND OF MUSIC that when God closes a door, He opens a window somewhere. Jay Leonard’s take is, “when a door closes, another door closes.”
And yet he keeps trying…mostly…and this is the votive force of this story. The reader shortly finds himself caught up with this man’s travail as well as with several other intriguing subplots and characters.
For a quick, brisk read brimming with pathos and dignity, humor and mystery, hope and despair, love and lust, corporate autocracy and little guys who won’t knuckle under….you won’t want to miss SLOT ATTENDANT.
John W. Cassell