The Art of Losing Hardcover – 20 Feb 2007
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What I didn't expect, and greatly enjoyed, were the deeper levels of the story - themes of memory, conscience, and redemption. Yet while the book is thought-provoking, Dixon avoids cliches, and he avoids bogging down the story with exposition. The tale cracks along. "The Art of Losing" would make an excellent movie - especially if it was directed in such a way that the story retained it's subtlety.
Mike makes films, a process that is a gamble all its own. ("Films," you understand. Not "movies," never "movies.") The failure of his third film is the catalyst for the tale, and is instructive in and of itself. It is a documentary called The Daisy Chain (Mike never explains the significance of the title) that takes place in Bellevue, the psychiatric hospital in Manhattan. Mike spends a year of his life and every scrap of money that he can get his hands on to make the film --- cutting corners by having the psychiatric patients who are the subject of the documentary handle the camera work, for example.
The Daisy Chain premieres in New York, but only a few people show up. Certainly not enough to make the production company any profit, certainly not enough to get the film to a wider audience in arthouse theaters across the country, certainly not enough to sell the film to the cable networks, and certainly not enough to compensate Mike for the year he took out of his life to make the film.
So, you're an impoverished New York filmmaker, in between films, and you need money fast --- not just to make your next film but to make your next meal; not just to stave off the "starving artist" cliché but starvation itself. What can you do? What should you do?
What Mike Jacobs does is play the ponies. The novel opens up at Aqueduct, where Mike and his producer Sebby Laslo have a line on a sure thing, a 50-to-1 shot that will pay off huge if it can just manage to overcome its little problem of an injured tendon. The horse finishes last, consistent with Mike's own track record. But Sebby knows a jockey, and the jockey knows horses, so there might be a way after all to turn the tables on the odds and walk away with enough money for Mike to lift himself out of poverty without compromising his artistic integrity or begging his parents.
This requires Mike to ignore a lot of the advice he receives --- even though it's well-meaning, correct and meant to save his life. Author Keith Dixon sets up the first half of the book with any number of escape routes, ways that Mike can save himself by pulling out of his self-destructive spiral. And then, one by one, Dixon closes the routes, locks off the tunnels and artfully seals Mike's fate gradually.
THE ART OF LOSING benefits from more than the deft plotting and its cynical, paranoid tone. Dixon gives Mike a cinematic eye for details, describing even the most minute experiences --- visiting the eye doctor, getting a shaving cut --- in a vivid, forceful way. Dixon's dark take on art, the track and the lengths to which people will go for money is stark and engrossing --- and it just might help you listen to some of the advice you get everyday.
--- Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds,