Literary reporter and reviewer Jim Phillips does a nice writeup about Gambler’s Nephew for the Athens News.
Half the pleasure in the book comes from its resemblance to a huge, shuffling, shaggy-dog story. Every time a new character comes on stage, the narrator – whose identity we don’t learn until the end – wanders off to talk at length about the new person’s history, quirks and kin. He later circles back to the main plot – now a little askew from where we thought it was heading originally. Later on, we learn that the silly, apparently offhand information imparted earlier is important.
Matthews looks at his people with a clear and merciless eye, laying out all the pettiness, greed and self-absorption that humans are prone to, but he does it without a hint of rancor, and more than a little affection – jaundiced and cynical affection, but real nonetheless.
He tries to let his characters have it out among themselves, without coming down on anyone’s side, or imposing some ultimate author’s truth. He cites the notion of men-de from classic Greek rhetoric (he has degrees in English Literature and Classical Greek) – which seems to mean something like, "one the one hand – but on the other hand" The idea, he suggests, is that nobody in the human world has the whole truth, and those who think they do – even if, like Nehemiah Dawes, they’re generally on the right side – end up crazy and mean.
I read this book last month and enjoyed it very much. I’ll be posting a review and analysis at a later date. For now suffice to say that it’s a fascinating story, a well told tale, a relatively fast read, lots of twists and surprises and confronts a time period in America’s past where people operated under different kinds of moral codes than from how we do today.