Love Is a Racket

Ridley, John

Published by Knopf, 1998
ISBN 10: 0375401423 / ISBN 13: 9780375401428
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Synopsis: In his first novel since Stray Dogs, John Ridley offers up a brilliant noir farce about a small-time con man who finally gets it right just before it all goes wrong.
        
Everything's a racket for Jeffty Kittridge, a thirty- seven-year-old ex-wannabe scriptwriter living on the skids in Hollywood--the two-bit cons he pulls for spending money; the way he convinces himself that he's not a drunk between every shot of booze he kicks back; the way he tries to assure Dumas, the local shark, that he's just about to pay off his 15K debt . . . Except he's not good at any of that. He's been in jail twice (and the state's got a bad attitude about seeing someone the third time); that bug he just felt crawling up his neck is most likely the first installment of the DTs; and Dumas recently delivered a fairly emphatic payment-due reminder: a couple of his goons busted two of Jeffty's fingers. The fact is, Jeffty's a loser, big as they come, and things aren't about to change up for him anytime soon: "I would've felt . . . near terminally depressed," he tells us as his story begins to unfold, "but I was so used to my life all I felt was content."

Then he stumbles on salvation: a dirt-caked, street-hardened, exquisitely beautiful young homeless woman named Mona--Jeffty prefers to think of her as Angel--who inspires both his love and the idea for the perfect con. It's Jeffty's chance to hit it big, and to be set for good in his new life with his new love. "The thing about love," Jeffty declares, "is no matter how twisted, or wrong, or evil, it never dies." But as the momentum of the con carries him closer and closer to what he imagines will be a moment of blissed-out consummation with his angel Mona, Jeffty discovers there are some severe exceptions to his rule.

Smart, edgy, caustically funny, Love Is a Racket puts John Ridley in a darkly comic league of his own.

Review: At several points Love Is a Racket is outright offensive in its depiction of Jeffty Kittridge's Hollywood skid-row world. Yet, Jeffty's narrative voice is so compelling, so real, that you want to know how he makes out.

The novel begins with Ty--a heavy working for the local loan shark, Dumas--breaking Jeffty's fingers. The fingers become a symbol of Jeffty's relentless bad luck as he tries and fails time and again to make the $15,000 he owes Dumas. Years ago, the reader discovers, Jeffty had come to Hollywood as an aspiring scriptwriter (a life that Jonathan Ridley lived, ultimately writing episodes of Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and The John Laroquette Show), but he now declares himself a grifter, a gambler, and, gradually, a drunk. Several roads to salvation emerge in Jeffty's nightmare life. At one point, it seems that a day at the races just might erase his debts. His "friend," Nellis, reappears at another moment--a junkie and, strangely, a master of Zen poker who hopes to win Jeffty's money for him. And, finally, Mona, an attractive young homeless woman, keeps showing up until Jeffty realizes that she is his last chance for escape.

Despite its grim subject matter, the book is sexy and often outright funny. ("My good luck was LA's a great place to work. Except for the smog and the gang violence, the brushfires in summer, the rain and floods in the winter, it's great.") Ridley injects bits of Eastern mysticism and icy realism to suggest a deeper truth behind Jeffty's tragicomic façade. While it's not a book for the overly sensitive, it is a masterpiece of noir black comedy that recalls Elmore Leonard's best writing. --Patrick O'Kelley

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Love Is a Racket
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 1998
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Fine
Edition: First Edition

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