Two things will happen to you if you read The Cardturner by Louis Sachar.
Firstly, you will be amazed at how the 56-year-old American author has crafted another masterpiece. Secondly, you may want to take up the card game bridge.
Before reading this novel, I was already very familiar with the work of Sachar. I had read some of his work, such as the award-winning Holes. Therefore, I had high expectations before reading the novel. It helped that the cover art was rather enticing and the excerpt on the back of the novel drew me in. I would not be disappointed in my expectations.
The story’s protagonist is named Alton, a name which he is not exactly proud of. Alton is a 17-year-old teenage boy. He is too lazy to work, does not have much independence and was recently dumped by his girlfriend, who then goes out with his best friend. This is all learned through Alton, who is the narrator in the story. Alton’s witty observation about himself and society in general not only make him a likable character right off the bat, but that style of narration is extremely effective to follow. Throughout the story, I felt like I was sitting in the same room as Alton as he told the interesting story of what happened to him. As he himself admits, he is not a literary writer. However, his narration was very fresh and natural.
What at first seems like an interesting but uneventful novel takes a weird turn when Alton is asked to be the driver and cardturner for his now-blind uncle Lester Trapp, a grumpy old man who happens to be a genius at bridge. Alton is hesitant, but his parents force him to. For his role, Alton does pocket $75 a day. Alton’s parents are not all for helping an elderly man, but all for taking his money when he dies. Trapp is very wealthy, and Alton’s parents have many debts to pay off. According to Alton, there are also others vying for the money, including Trapp’s housekeeper, his attractive nurse, and the Casteneda family.
In a way, The Cardturner is like the movie 21, except they are playing bridge instead of blackjack. As Alton serves as the cardturner for Trapp (Alton tells Trapp his cards in private before the hand starts and then plays whichever card Trapp tells him to) he starts becoming more engaged and interested in bridge. He starts learning about the game behind his uncle’s back and eventually plays it on his own. As a cardturner, Alton helps Trapp work towards his goal of winning a national bridge championship. Admittedly, I had little interest in bridge and thought it was a game for old people before reading this novel. However, through the description of bridge in the book, I felt a burning urge to play. Even if you don’t care for bridge, you’ll still find the book interesting. The book gives you warning whenever a bridge description is coming up if you want to skip it.
Besides bridge, Alton also develops an interest in Toni Casteneda, an amateur bridge player and Trapp’s former cardtuner. The two end up becoming bridge partners. However, believe it or not, Alton’s best friend stands in his way of taking his relationship with Toni further.
While The Cardturner could be considered a story about bridge or a love story, it is also a mystery. Alton works to decipher the mystery behind the Casteneda family and Trapp’s relationship with the now-deceased Annabel Casteneda, Toni’s Grandmother. Forty years ago, Trapp and Annabel were elite bridge players. Then, something happened to Annabel and Trapp quit playing bridge, building up his own business instead. This mystery adds of a touch of suspense to the novel.
Though The Cardturner is 352 pages, I personally breezed through it. According to the cover, The Cardturner is “A Novel About a King, a Queen, and a Joker.” However, perhaps the best message the novel preaches is always to do your best with the hand you’re dealt and never to give up. I may not know how to execute the perfect bridge hand, but I can say with certainty that reading The Cardturner is a good move.