What if you took everything super away from a superhero? He might have his power and a pitiable origin story, but all the justice and morality is stripped away. That’s Alexander Bruno, the globe-trotting, tuxedo-wearing gambler whose memories of his own telepathy are tinged by confusion, sadness and a mysterious blot that keeps him from being able to see, either with his literal vision or with his second sight.
When we meet Bruno in Berlin, he seems on the precipice of a comeback, playing backgammon with an easy mark. But the easy score gets complicated—and that turns out to be just the beginning of his problems. As the world becomes more and more blurred by the block to Bruno’s eyesight, the exciting trajectory of his life is thwarted, eventually sending him back home to Berkeley, the place where he was raised by a flower child more interested in sleeping in parks and experimenting with drugs than being a mom. It’s also where he went to high school with Keith Stolarsky—a totally forgettable classmate who is now an incredibly wealthy owner of cheesy theme restaurants and monuments to consumerism.
Bruno is turned off by Keith and mystified by how he attracted his genuinely arresting girlfriend, Tira, to whom Bruno feels a deep connection. Keith is the most natural choice for a villain, a sloppy archnemesis for Bruno’s suave telepathic gambler. But instead of putting up a fight, Bruno accepts money and help from Keith. Eventually, his promising life devolves into a sort of sad blackmail, the end of a spectacularly bad bet that grows dangerously bloated before it collapses. The twists, turns and sagging morality of A Gambler’s Anatomy may be a bit much for some, but fans of Lethem’s dystopian genre-hopping will find a new antihero to adore.