Balling the Jack
Simon & Schuster
By Frank Baldwin '85
January 1, 1996
From Simon & Schuster
When you bet it all - everything you have - you're balling the jack. Tom Reasons thought that a money bet was enough for him. Then he put his career, his love, even his life on the line. Tom is just a year out of school, a paralegal in a Wall Street firm, and he's already asking himself, "Is this all there is?" He's not finding any thrills on the job, and off it he sees his friends sliding into marriages and careers. He also finds himself spending way too much time thinking about his ex-girlfriend, Lisa. Tom's pleasures are few and simple - chasing good times in bars with his old gang from school, leading his dart team. But his real escape is gambling.
Every Friday night he bets his paycheck on a single game. If he wins, he lives the high life - checking out bands, standing his friends drinks, going after girls. If he loses, it's ramen noodles and TV until his next check. Win or lose, though, it's all worth it to Tom, because the thrill of risking it all is what reminds him he's alive. Tom's life works surprisingly well - until he crosses Joe Duggan. Duggan is the tough Irish captain of the meanest dart team in the league, an outfit from Hell's Kitchen known as the Hellions. After Tom's team has the nerve to beat the Hellions for the league championship, Duggan wants a rematch - this time for a little money. When a little money becomes a lot, Tom's scramble through the underworld of New York to raise the money brings him, his friends, and Lisa into dangerous territory. When it all comes down to one throw of a dart, with everything on the line, Tom discovers what he's really wanted, really needed, all along.
Reviews"A smart and amusing tale of urban knight-errantry."
- Mark Lindquist, The New York Times Book Review
"Frat-boy paralegal Tom Reasons makes a drunken bet and ends up having to raise $40,000 in a slick debut that exposes, among other things, the seamy New York underworld of dart games. The lure of the bull's eye isn't Tom's only vice: he is (as he loves to insist) a man's man who lives, when he isn't hurling darts, for beer-drinking, card-playing, bachelor parties and "one on one," which he gets with surprising frequency. It's hard to decide which is more irritating, Tom's relentless self-aggrandizement ("if I win and I win a lot I take on the town") or the inanity of his observations on life ("The better the weekend, the tougher the Monday, they say"). It may irritate readers that insufferable Tom actually gets the girl, behaves so honorably toward an honest immigrant that he sacrifices his own job and beats the Mafia at its own game. Baldwin's prose manages to raise darts, perhaps the dullest of spectator sports, to a new level of tedium: "In darts it doesn't take a lot to knock you off stride. An eighth of an inch turns a triple 20 into a triple 1." But Baldwin brings blowhards of Tom's ilk to life, no mean feat whether you hate the guy or grudgingly recognize his type. B&N Discovery Program selection; film rights to New Line Cinema.(July)" - Publishers Weekly