In the game of roulette, numbers are everything. This game of chance finds its clear and distinct resolution when the wheel slows its spinning and stops. That is when the suspense melts away and the result comes in. The croupier’s focus is all on the resting point of the the ball. It is that suspense that makes you hold your breath. The number which comes up is everything. The number changes destinies.
But possibly not. Quoting a line from Bob Dylan, Antonio Monda takes “None is the Number” as the title for his latest novel. In one scene, in fact, the croupier stops the ball before it comes to rest. No matter what number comes up, the winner is Ben Siegel, aka “Bugsy,” who collects all the winnings without anyone intervening. Fear reigns. Bugsy is a real-life character, a well-known American mobster named Benjamin Siegel, born Benjamin Hymen Siegelbaum. He is the boss. He goes on to collect the winnings and then returns them along with his $5,000 to the croupier, saying out loud but nonchalantly: “For you and everyone who works in this joint” (p. 201). Because the number is nothing; it is of no significance. Wins are not entrusted to chance. You don’t win because the ball lands in a particular slot. And there is no number that can change things, including the laws of life, especially for those with power.
Monda’s wide-ranging novel arcs, knots and unravels on this point. It asks the question: is it possible to change? Is it possible for something to happen that changes destinies and alters the course of lives by changing its laws? And, ultimately, is a form of grace possible? To know Monda’s answer, it is necessary to read through to the last page.