Unlike drug narratives, which fixate on withdrawal and destruction, gambling narratives tend to glamorize the upswing—the writer/gambler will always tell you about his biggest score, how quickly he blew the money, and how fast he was back at the tables, but he will rarely tell about the scraped-out bottom. Massive losses are almost always followed up by a massive rallying—a man’s last five dollars turned miraculously into the $10,000 dollars he needs to pay for his fiancée’s wedding ring. Indeed, the only truthful gambling narratives are told by the family members and friends who witnessed the fallout: the bank account receipts, the early morning arrivals, the hanging stench of re-circulated cigarette smoke. Whereas drug literature comes from those who have bottomed out, there exists no bottom in gambling because every new hand brings fresh hope and possibility. Is it any wonder why most narratives written by gamblers read like boyhood fantasies—every casino a palace, every bellhop a best friend, every dealer an alchemist? Gambling narratives are projections of casinos’ fantasies—the tracers of lights that flash inside a gambler’s head as he watches the ball spin around the roulette wheel.
Jay Caspian Kang has written my favorite read of the week, a deeply personal essay on his life as a gambling addict that happens to feature a deconstruction of the gambling narrative: