Cover image for Double down : reflections on gambling and loss
Double down : reflections on gambling and loss
Barthelme, Frederick, 1943-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [1999]

Physical Description:
198 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 22 cm
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RC569.5.G35 B37 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"So each night begins. One of us picks up the other and we drive into the Mississippi darkness, headed for a place where everything is different." This first nonfiction book by Frederick Barthelme, author of BOB THE GAMBLER, and his brother and colleague Steven is both a story of family feeling and a testimony to the risky allure of casinos. Within a year and a half, the authors had lost both of their parents, less than a decade after their brother Donald died. Their exacting father had been a prominent modernist architect in Houston; their mother, the architect of this family of seven, which she "invented, shaped, guided, and protected." "We were on our own in a remarkable new way," the Barthelmes write, "and we were not ready." What followed was a several-year escapade during which the two brothers lost close to a quarter million dollars in the gambling boats off the Mississippi coast. They played to enter that addictive land of possibility. Then, in a bizarre twist, they were charged with violating state gambling laws, fingerprinted, and thrown into the surreal world of felony prosecution. For two years these widely publicized charges hung over their heads, shadowing their every step, until, in August of 1999, the charges were finally dismissed. DOUBLE DOWN is the sometimes wryly told, often heartbreaking story of how Frederick and Steven Barthelme got into this predicament. It is also a reflection on the pull and power of illusions, the way they work on us when we are not careful.

Author Notes

Frederick Barthelme, an American writer in the minimalist tradition, depicts in his writings loneliness, isolation, and fear of intimacy in modern life. Born in 1943 in Houston, Texas, Barthelme attended Tulane University and the University of Houston before studying at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts from 1965-66. He worked as an architectural draftsman, assistant to the director of New York City's Kornblee Gallery, and creative director for advertising firms in Houston during the 1960s and early 1970s. At the same time, his art was featured in such galleries as the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Barthelme's fiction often concentrates on scenes rather than plots. They frequently include "snapshots" of popular culture, such as shopping malls and McDonald's restaurants, to illustrate the emotional shallowness of the late twentieth century. Characters who show their feelings and thoughts through actions rather than language are another aspect of Barthelme's work.

Barthelme began to write fiction in the 1960s, leading to a change in the direction of his life and art. He earned an M.A. in English from Johns Hopkins University in 1977, then became an English professor at the University of Southern Mississippi and the editor of the Mississippi Review.

Barthelme's work includes the novels Two Against One (1988), Natural Selection (1993), and Bob the Gambler (1997), the short story collections Rangoon (1970) and Chroma (1987), and the screenplays Second Marriage (1985) and Tracer (1986).

Barthelme is the brother of the well-known experimental writer Donald Barthelme (1931-1989).

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the legal system, whoever tells the best story wins. But when two "workaday English teachers"Äwho happen to be the writers Frederick Barthelme (Bob the Gambler) and Steven Barthelme (And He Tells the Horse the Whole Story)Ägamble away their $250,000 inheritance in a few years and are indicted for conspiracy to defraud the casino where they were regulars, the tale they have to tell is far more richly complicatedÄand hauntingÄthan any their lawyer could present. Their narrative seductively juxtaposes the stark loss of their parents, their family's "psychological arithmetic" and the "miraculous multiplication" of winning at the blackjack tables, moving fluently between an account of the brothers' fall into addiction and their memories of a family life that was like "a lovely old-fashioned movie with snappy dialogue and surprising developments, high drama and low comedy, heroes and villains, wit and beauty and regret." By turns dazzlingly canny and achingly abject, the Barthelmes, who write in a single voice, lure the reader into the intimacy of their self-deception. Intoxicated by their brinksmanship and their clever comebacks, readers will hope against hope they'll fight their way back from staggering losses. In retrospect, the brothers' gaming philosophyÄ"We would have been willing to win, but we were content to lose"Äwas sustaining in the casino's mirror world where "money isn't money," although, as the authors wryly observe, it crumbled when they were awaiting a legal verdict. (Nov.) FYI: Filed a few weeks after the publication of Bob the Gambler in 1997, the charges against the brothers were dismissed by the Mississippi State Circuit Court in August 1999. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

An old story with a new twist: What began as a diversion became an addiction as the Barthelme brothers, writers and professors at the University of Southern Mississippi, began spending more time and money in the so-called offshore casinos on the Mississippi Sound. The strange thing is that despite dropping a quarter of a million dollars, they were subsequently indicted for conspiring (with a blackjack dealer) to bilk a place called the Grand Casino. The Barthelmes tell their weird story in a narrative style that moves deftly back and forth between the third-person singular and first-person plural to describe their family backgrounds and the distinct influences of their parents, whose deaths in the mid-nineties accelerated their gambling. Their descriptions of their gambling mania and the methods and strategies of play are simultaneously intoxicating and chilling. At other times, however, their tone is somewhat disingenuous. And, because the book was written before the Barthelmes went to trial, the outcome of their indictment goes unmentioned. Or else waiting for a sequel. --Frank Caso

Library Journal Review

Having lost both parents and their writer brother, Donald, the authors (prominent writers themselves) go on a gambling binge that ends in jail. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1 Mississippi We arrived in Hattiesburg almost ten years apart. We'd held plenty of other jobs -- cab driver, construction worker, advertising writer, journalist, art installer, architectural draftsman -- and we'd each done stints at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for graduate degrees, and now we were ready to settle down and teach. Rick arrived first, in the mid-seventies, terrified because Mississippi had that reputation, that myth the prominent aspect of which wasn't the lovely Old South with its high manners and splendid architecture, but ignorance, burning, lynching. Being from Houston, having lived five years in New York City, and just out of graduate school, he figured he was profoundly enlightened and Mississippi wasn't. Indeed, his introduction to Hattiesburg was at an all- night gas station on Highway 49 where a lone teenager- slash-halfwit was capturing "pinching" bugs attracted by the bright lights and corralling them in a five- gallon bucket of sand he kept inside his little glass booth, a diversion he favored because, as he said, he liked to watch the bugs kill each other. This was two in the morning, and Rick and his girlfriend had been driving all day from Baltimore, where the morning before they'd had brunch with the British literary critic Tony Tanner in the polished- mahogany restaurant on the first floor of a hundred- year-old hotel. Now instead of talking about postmodernism they were facing it, and it didn't seem to know their names. So Rick spent the first six weeks of his employment at the University of Southern Mississippi commuting from Houston, a safe four hundred and fifty miles away. In time he discovered that Mississippi was as civilized as anywhere else. The gas jockey notwithstanding, things had apparently changed, and at least in Hattiesburg and around the university, the myth was a phony. In fact, taken as a whole, the people he met in Mississippi began to seem gentler and more humane than many he'd run into in ostensibly finer settings. Probably there were remnants of the "old" Mississippi elsewhere in the New South of the seventies, but those remnants weren't on public view, did not seem dominant. In spite of the benighted reputation, Mississippi seemed more than its share enlightened. Steve arrived nine years later, and if some of his impressions were different, maybe that was because when he arrived in Hattiesburg he had already spent the previous two years teaching at a university in Monroe, a dim, depressed, trash-strewn Louisiana town where even the snakes hung their heads. If the races seemed to him stiffer with each other in Mississippi than they had been in Louisiana, Hattiesburg itself was clean and bright, and the people were friendly. There was more money apparent, and the roads were mostly paved. During his first weeks in town he noticed two, maybe three Volkswagen beetles. You wouldn't have found them in Monroe. So there we were, college professors and fict Excerpted from Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss by Frederick Barthelme, Steven Barthelme All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Authors' Notep. vii
1. Mississippip. 3
2. Familyp. 11
3. Tearing Down the Housep. 24
4. One Nightp. 39
5. Table Gamesp. 59
6. Gamblersp. 70
7. Dreamersp. 79
8. Slotsp. 88
9. Thrallp. 98
10. Money Playsp. 107
11. Courting Lossp. 115
12. Eighty-Sixedp. 125
13. Don't Know Quitp. 130
14. Next Yearp. 139
15. Bookedp. 149
16. Insurancep. 165
17. Lawp. 169
18. Spotlightp. 178
19. Fatherp. 184
20. At Lastp. 195