Poker Face


Centered on dead-on perceptions of the swirling needs, poses and cruelties of her family, Lederer’s debut memoir is less Positively Fifth Street than an alienated New England version of The Liar’s Club, and ends up with some of the best of both. Poet Lederer (Winter Sex) winningly tracks her siblings’ improbable metamorphosis from New Hampshire private school faculty brats (and occasional degenerates) to world-class card sharks at the Las Vegas poker tables. (The transformation of Katy’s father Richard Lederer from quiescent teacher to celebrated author of Anguished English and other language puzzle books happens mostly off-camera.) After parsing the class codes (and anti-Semitism) of her rich peers, young Katy becomes curious about her siblings’ mysterious, money-laden reinventions of themselves, eventually following her brother, Howard (with their recovered alcoholic mother keeping his bettor’s books), and sister, Annie, to Sin City to stake her own claim. There aren’t enough of Lederer’s blow-by-blows of learning to play among hardcore pros, tourists and ‘compulsives,’ but her descriptive gifts are on display throughout, even in the ‘ultragibbous’ eyes of one of her brother’s sports bettor clients. Totaling up her experiences at the $3-$6 tables, Katy chooses writing over poker, but while studying poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, her mother and older siblings’ massive accumulation of wealth disappears overnight, with jail looming. Despite loose structuring and too many sketchily detailed events, Lederer hones in on the family’s complex relationship to games, money and one another and their efforts to direct the ebb and flow of all three, and will convince even the abstemious of gambling’s deep power to alter relationships.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

The intricacies of family and the complexities of the games they play mingle wonderfully here in a memoir quite unlike any other.

George Plimpton

Like James McManus’ recent Positively Fifth Street, about the World Series of Poker, this offbeat memoir will attract both gamblers and literary types.

Mary Frances Wilkens, Booklist

A slim but poetic volume that concerns itself less with the mechanics of the game than with the game’s effect on one unusual family….Lederer has provided readers with a beautifully crafted book that handles the complexities of gambling and family ties with poetry and grace.

San Diego Union-Tribune

A sad, funny, always fascinating tale with no villains or scores to settle, and Lederer tells it in the clear prose of a born raconteur.


It’s difficult to explain why this book is so compelling, but it’s probably because the Lederer family is so quirky and yet portrayed here in such a loving manner.

Library Journal

Lederer’s meditation on family and chance is finely written….Compact and well-executed.

Kirkus Reviews

For an intriguing fly-on-the-wall peek into the grimy, glitzy world of high-stakes professional gambling, with its colorful characters, lingo and razor-edged lifestyle, Poker Face can’t be beat.


Lederer tells her story with a keen, dry wit and a gimlet eye for the telling details, revealing the colorful people who inhabit her offbeat world. Eventually, Lederer abandons her quest for glory at the poker table, seeking success as a writer. This funny, painful, but ultimately happy memoir is proof that she has found it.

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