Thursday, July 19, 2018
Books

Review: St. Petersburg author Gale Massey deals a winning debut with ‘Girl From Blind River’

Life has dealt Jamie Elders a lousy hand.

The 19-year-old wants nothing more than to get as far away as possible from her hometown, a bleak little corner of New York state called Blind River.

But she’s stuck there. In the opening chapters of The Girl From Blind River, Gale Massey’s compulsively readable debut novel, Jamie is hemmed in by poverty and difficult family obligations. As this noir thriller’s plot takes off, the trap around her tightens. Her only hope for escape is her talent for poker, but how well will she play the game when the stakes turn lethal?

Massey, a Florida native who lives in St. Petersburg, is an alum of Eckerd College’s Writers in Paradise program. The Girl From Blind River has a vivid and decidedly non-Florida setting; it sleets and snows so often in Jamie’s town that you might want to keep a blanket handy while you read.

Her family life is about as chilly as the weather. Her father died when she was small; her mother went to prison on drug charges when Jamie was 10 and her brother, Toby, a year younger. The siblings were taken in by their father’s brother, Loyal, a gambler and petty criminal. Jamie learned her card skills (not all of them according to Hoyle) at the kitchen table in Loyal’s rundown mobile home, where she and Toby still live, sleeping on cots in a storage room and foraging for Pop-Tarts and bologna.

Jamie has dropped out of college and is itching for a new life; Toby is the reason she doesn’t just hop on a bus out of town. Loyal beats both of them, but Toby takes the brunt, and he has become a bully himself, his anger getting him into constant trouble at school.

Their mother, Phoebe, has been out of prison for a year, but she makes such a meager living waiting tables in a diner that they can’t move in with her — and Jamie, still seething with resentment, doesn’t want to anyway.

Another hold, though tenuous, for Jamie is her current boyfriend. We can gauge how promising that relationship is by the snarky response of her best friend, Angel, on finding out about it: "Jack at the check store? Jack your uncle’s business partner? The guy with the floppy brown hair and dreamy eyes? Jack who is married and twice your age? See how casually you slipped that in? How long’s that been going on?"

Jamie tells herself that Jack is a fling (the thrill is already pretty much gone) and Toby is just about old enough to take care of himself, and that the several thousand dollars she has won at online poker will get her to Florida — and cover a little loan she gives herself from gambling profits she was supposed to deliver from Loyal to Jack for money laundering.

Then the illegal online sites are closed down before she gets her winnings, and she tries to recover the borrowed cash at a nearby casino. It goes badly, leaving her in serious debt to the unforgiving Loyal. Her casino trip also causes her to miss playing dealer at a high-stakes poker game Loyal arranged at the home of his longtime, if unlikely, friend, a powerful but creepy judge named Keating.

Phoebe, another accomplished card shark, filled in as dealer at the game, where a retired NFL player in town for a few days got very drunk and bet his Super Bowl ring. That sets off a series of events that goes from very bad to dire. A police detective named Garcia starts following Jamie around Blind River, offering her earnest advice — but is he sincere or just another con?

"If there was a window to escape," Jamie thinks midway through the book, "it was closing fast. Right here at the underside of twenty, there was an opening, maybe a month, and it might be the only time she’d be able to leave, find her way to some city where there were real jobs, where winters weren’t so f------ cold, where no one would ask her to help move a dead body in the middle of the night."

In Jamie, Massey creates a character who is hardly heroic, but always believable. She has a precocious world-weariness born of her upbringing, but she’s still young enough to trust people she shouldn’t. Almost everyone around her has a hole card, some secret that can wipe her out, and almost none of them play fair. Much of the novel’s considerable suspense is built on watching her play — or bluff — her way around them.

Crisply paced and stacked with surprises, Massey’s The Girl From Blind River is an impressive debut.

Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435.
Follow @colettemb.

Comments
After writing ‘Squeezed,’ about the economy, Alissa Quart reads poetry

After writing ‘Squeezed,’ about the economy, Alissa Quart reads poetry

Alissa QuartYou might find brand-new information in Quart’s book, Squeezed; however, you might also find she is providing a simple answer to your question: No, you are not crazy. Even with your college degree and full-time job, it is extremely diffic...
Published: 07/19/18
Review: Ace Atkins’ ‘The Sinners’ a bloody, and funny, trip to the altar

Review: Ace Atkins’ ‘The Sinners’ a bloody, and funny, trip to the altar

There’s always so much to deal with in the weeks before your wedding. For Quinn Colson, there’s his mother’s threat to sing Elvis karaoke if he doesn’t hire a band, the question of whether his long-gone stuntman daddy will show up at all, his bride-t...
Published: 07/18/18
Tampa Bay Rowdies player Hunter Gorskie is reading about better nights and mornings

Tampa Bay Rowdies player Hunter Gorskie is reading about better nights and mornings

Hunter GorskieBecause soccer fans around the world will be watching the FIFA World Cup’s crowning game today, we decided to touch base with one of our own soccer players: Hunter Gorskie, the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ No. 27. Gorskie, a defender who played c...
Published: 07/13/18
Lori Roy’s novel ‘The Disappearing’ draws from Florida’s Dozier and Ted Bundy

Lori Roy’s novel ‘The Disappearing’ draws from Florida’s Dozier and Ted Bundy

TIERRA VERDEAuthor Lori Roy has lived in Florida since 1996, but it wasn’t until her fourth novel that she wrote a story set in the state. "I just wrote an essay for CrimeReads on the intersection of Southern Gothic and crime fiction," Roy says. "You...
Published: 07/12/18
Review: St. Petersburg author Gale Massey deals a winning debut with ‘Girl From Blind River’

Review: St. Petersburg author Gale Massey deals a winning debut with ‘Girl From Blind River’

Life has dealt Jamie Elders a lousy hand. The 19-year-old wants nothing more than to get as far away as possible from her hometown, a bleak little corner of New York state called Blind River. But she’s stuck there. In the opening chapters of ...
Published: 07/06/18
‘Barracoon’ editor Deborah Plant on discovering Zora Neale Hurston, reading Alice Walker

‘Barracoon’ editor Deborah Plant on discovering Zora Neale Hurston, reading Alice Walker

Deborah PlantWe caught up with Plant, the editor of Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo," a newly published book by Zora Neale Hurston, after her recent appearance at the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center. The book is based on Hurs...
Published: 07/06/18

Book events: John Cinchett to discuss ‘Historic Tampa Churches’

Book TalkJohn Cinchett (Historic Tampa Churches) will discuss and sign his book at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Oxford Exchange, 420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.Teacher and author Rob Sanders reads from his new children’s book, Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and...
Published: 07/05/18
Poet Donald Hall’s ‘A Carnival of Losses,’ to be published after his death, offers essays on his life

Poet Donald Hall’s ‘A Carnival of Losses,’ to be published after his death, offers essays on his life

Donald Hall, a former U.S. poet laureate, died on June 23 at his home in Wilmot, N.H. He was 89. An influential poet for more than 60 years, the prolific Hall published more than 20 poetry collections as well as memoirs, fiction, essays, biographies,...
Updated one month ago
Review: Tommy Orange’s ‘There There’ a powerful portrait of urban Indian life

Review: Tommy Orange’s ‘There There’ a powerful portrait of urban Indian life

Every American is a child of immigrants.The only difference is how long ago your forebears came here from another land, by sail or steam, on foot or by jet engine, by choice or by enslavement.The clear winners of that contest, of course, are Native A...
Updated one month ago
Review: Look inside the tent of a Gibsonton-based sideshow in Tessa Fontaine’s memoir ‘The Electric Woman’

Review: Look inside the tent of a Gibsonton-based sideshow in Tessa Fontaine’s memoir ‘The Electric Woman’

Grief can unhinge us, disconnect us from our daily lives, make us do things we’ve never done. Grief made Tessa Fontaine run away and join the circus.To be more exact, the sideshow: World of Wonders, the last traditional traveling sideshow in the coun...
Updated one month ago