After having read Good Night, Steve McQueen earlier this year, I had to pick up Louise Wener’s first novel, The Perfect Play. While The Perfect Play isn't as “laugh out loud” funny as her second novel was, it was still a very engaging read. The Perfect Play centers on two characters, Audrey Ungar and Big Louie, both of whom have obsessive compulsive habits. It’s the story of an odd friendship, born of Audrey’s desire to find her missing father.
Audrey Ungar goes through life wondering why her father left her and her mother when she was ten years old. She has many memories of this man who taught her many things and told her wonderful little stories, including one about the Arctic Tern that still makes her smile. Her father was a gambling man, and she learned at his feet while he gambled with his buddies. She has an addictive personality, although she may not realize it, but it is her love of numbers and statistics that leads her to gambling, starting as early as her childhood games with marbles.
She is a now an adult, living with her boyfriend Joe, a landscape designer. He's a whiz with plants, and their home shows it. When he receives a request to install a beautiful window box in a dangerous part of town, Audrey goes to investigate and visits the apartment in question. There, she meets a heavily obese agoraphobic named Big Louie, who is obsessive compulsively clean and has an addiction to gambling. And he's good. Somehow, he gets Audrey interested in poker, a game her father was addicted to all those years ago. Instead of payment for the window box, he tells her he'll give her free lessons. She agrees.
What he doesn’t realize is that Audrey is obsessive compulsive deep down inside, a genius for math who can do all sorts of complex calculations in her head. Statistics and probability are two of her loves, and the added skills of poker playing give her a deadly combination sure to lead to addiction. She now spends her off-hours reading up on poker and anything related to it, joining Big Louie and his proteges in poker games.
She asks Big Louie if he has heard of her father, who was most likely living in America gambling his life away at high stakes poker. Big Louie hints that he may have heard of her father and may be able to help her locate him. The two get to know each other, and Audrey thinks they are slowly becoming real friends. This is her chance to finally find her father, whom she has never stopped thinking about since he left many years ago.
Joe is upset with this addiction of hers, and he tries to get her to stop. As with her parents, the addiction is tearing up their relationship, but Audrey's deep conviction that she can find her father through Big Louie and playing poker does not allow her to rest. She feels that without Big Louie and his help, she will never see her father again.
Louise Wener has a gift of storytelling, and so far I have loved both her books. The Perfect Play is funny in spots, serious in others. The ending satisfied me, done properly without too much sentimentality that would have ruined this book. I was also fascinated by the world of poker and by how one can take advantage of other players simply by learning a few techniques. I'd definitely read more by her. The Perfect Play comes recommended.