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Fading Hearts on the River

A Life in High-Stakes Poker

List Price: $15.95

April 14, 2015 | Paperback | 6 x 9, 288 Pages | ISBN 9781619025448
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“[It won’t] show you how to draw that one card you ned to fill an inside straight. But [it] uses poker to expand our sense of how human beings work...Haxton is prone to big-hearted musings.” —New York Times Book Review

Centered around multi-million-dollar stakes and a series of nationally televised poker tournaments, Fading Hearts on the River offers a story of odds—the odds of a newborn surviving severe jaundice, the odds of Congress passing a law that renders one’s online gambling income inaccessible, the odds of drawing the right card on the turn or the river. In this tale of fatherhood and worldly success, Brooks Haxton follows his son Isaac’s unlikely career as a poker player, the nervous father often sitting on the sidelines with his fingers crossed or staring at a casino monitor while Isaac wins more in one hand of play than Haxton has earned from all his books of poetry combined.

In this deftly crafted story Haxton explores the propensity for abstraction, logic, and memory all good poets and poker players share, all the while taking readers on a rollicking tour of complex, intertwined topics, ranging from game theory and financial strategies, to medical mysteries and lost love, to chess, Magic cards, and Texas Hold ‘em. Guided by the through-line of a father’s love and admiration for his talented son, Fading Hearts delivers a unique perspective on professional gambling and one family’s experience playing the odds.

BROOKS HAXTON has published six collections of poems from Knopf. His poems and prose have appeared in Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, and the Paris Review. He is the 2013 recipient of the Fellowship of Southern Writers Hanes Award, recognizing a distinguished body of work by a poet in mid-career. He lives with his wife and children in Syracuse and teaches at Syracuse University.


“[It won’t] show you how to draw that one card you ned to fill an inside straight. But [it] uses poker to expand our sense of how human beings work…Haxton is prone to big-hearted musings.” —New York Times Book Review

“Haxton delivers a thoughtful and gripping memoir… Haxton weaves the events leading to his son’s poker winnings with heartfelt accounts of various earlier times… Haxton nicely touches on the mathematics and psychology of poker playing…. [H]is gift for the poetic and lyrical shines, as he presents highly sympathetic descriptions of the denizens of casinos around the world where the various tournaments he describes are located.” —Publishers Weekly

“… this tale is not just for gamblers. It is for anyone who likes to think about ‘how to make luck happen.’” —Booklist

“I was knocked out by the narrative power and polymath brilliance, the elliptical beauty and elegance of thought inside a story with great momentum. It’s a book about child rearing, money in absentia and in abundance, poker, the nature of chance, the psychology of deception…I can see this being a cult hit.” —Mary Karr, author of The Liar’s Club

“Loved the book—gave a sad groan when I saw I was out of pages—hugely compelling, kind, witty—an utterly charming & frank voice.” —George Saunders, author of Tenth of December

“…[A]nother ambitious work of nonfiction that seeks to use poker as a window into matters of history and philosophy…[C]onsistently engaging…Haxton is a terrific stylist who specializes in ‘poetic disposition’…but his best work here comes not from his lovely (though temporally disjointed) descriptions of Isaac’s personal life. It comes from Haxton’s precise narration of individual poker hands, especially the ones that put his son in danger…[T]his is certainly a book worth reading.” —The Rumpus

“[Haxton] puts his poetry skills to excellent use, spinning out language that is often beautiful and evocative. The book is not just about his son’s competitive gambling career; it’s also a poetic memorial to the poignant moments in his life, his son’s life and their shared life…an appealing, intriguing read for those fascinated by poker, chance and unique father-son relationships.” —Kirkus

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