The danger of gambling is an unusual subject for a young adult novel. Compared to sex and drugs, poker may seem a rather innocuous pastime. However, No Limit by Pete Hautman powerfully portrays the risks inherent in it.
No Limit, by Pete Hautman (formerly published as Stone Cold) Simon & Schuster, 2007.
The novel’s narrator is Dennis Doyle, an intelligent and motivated teenager. He has a loving girlfriend and a steadily growing business mowing lawns. He is saving up money to buy a car. Everything seems to be working in his favor.
But a catastrophe occurs. Doyle is invited to play in a game of poker. He accepts, and wins several hundred dollars. Fascinated by the game, he purchases books on the subject of poker and studies them carefully. He plays again and wins substantially. He begins to frequent a casino, lying about his age in order to be allowed to play. He finds that he is extremely talented and can almost always predict what hands the other players have. This gives him an intoxicating sense of power. Over time, it starts to dominate his life. He sells his business, since he can make far more money in a single night of poker than he can with a week of hard work.
Unlike what one might expect in such a novel, Doyle never loses any money gambling. On the contrary, he gains incredibly by it, gathering thousands of dollars. The catastrophe that eventually occurs is mental: Doyle becomes so obsessed with gambling that all his original interests are pushed aside and his friends alienated.
The novel does not have a very powerful or gripping plot: its strength lies in the author’s ability to realistically depict Doyle’s slide into obsession. This process is shown so dramatically and realistically that the reader can believe in and to a certain degree take part in Doyle’s fixation. It is an intense and gripping book.
Cyrus Wolff is homeschooled in Princeton, Minnesota and studies classic literature, focusing on nineteenth century fiction. He is a book reviewer for Amazon.com and writes short stories and essays.