Kristen Bicknell’s Poker On The River begins with a disclaimer. “Warning: This book is not for the faint of heart.” It’s a cautionary tale about female enthusiasm and the merits of actually playing a real game of poker. There’s no doubt about the financial rewards to be had from the exciting world of online poker, but the author seems to be pushing the payoffs in the opposite direction.
There’s no problem in the novel that doesn’t have its obvious solutions in Kristen Bicknell’s pragmatic wisdom. The narrative isn’t really all that engaging, and it would be easier to read if it was a travelogue. There’s also very little characterization, and the characters’ actions aren’t really believable.
What is made up of is the actual game of poker as represented by various players and their antics. I found that there was an excessive use of exclamation points that strained the flow of the dialogue. What the author does with these scenes and dialogues are just kind of goofy.
The most noteworthy aspect of the poker scene in the book is the narrator. She sounds like a combination of Katie Holmes and one of those drunk women at the bars in Manhattan who talk with you for a minute and then throws her napkin across the room. But this is done so skillfully that it brings the poker scene to life in a way that the actual cards don’t. What’s great about this technique is that the story can be taken seriously without losing its irreverent spirit.
Most of the characters’ motivations are based on a rather interesting relationship between John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher. This love triangle is both hilarious and disturbing. There’s a particularly awkward scene where I almost bought into the narrative that John Paul II was trying to enact an abortion. If this were the only problem with the book, I’d say that I’d have little choice but to leave it at that, but the other problem lies within the ending. The author insists that “the book was never intended to be the end of the story,” and there are several moments where you may feel that she’s going to go there. The way the characters sit around the table is a bit underwhelming, and I’d imagine that some readers will think that the good guys got off easy in this case.
It’s not really clear what Kristen Bicknell’s intention was when she was making decisions. Did she have any other agenda? There’s no real sense of what she wanted her story to be, and for me, that just makes it less engaging.
Still, it’s a fiction book and I suppose that’s the only excuse I have. I will say that I enjoyed it for the most part, but I don’t think that it warrants four stars. The final couple pages are more disappointing than I thought they would be.
There are other things that make the ending disappointing, but the final couple pages are where the story drops off for me. I suppose that there’s no need to be a raging and sarcastic critic on these matters. And I’m not, but if you’re still looking for a short book with lots of action and great writing, then you’re in luck.
Her next book, which won the Book of the Year Award from Kobo in 2020, is titled, Patterson At Day’s Close: A Novel Of The Emotions. This one will be available in April 2020.
Hopefully this review of Poker On The River will provide you with an idea of what the author had in mind. I did enjoy it. It was entertaining and a bit entertaining and maybe even a bit shocking, but it was also pretty bleak.
Kristen Bicknell lives in New Hampshire and writes professionally. Her works have been published in North American and Canadian publications.