Growing up in an Italian-American family is, to say the least, an interesting experience for Charles Cipressi. Aside of his father’s clandestine machinations that are snuggly hidden within the confines of a seemingly innocent barbershop, as well as the awkward relationship that he has with his father, Charles’s fondest memories are of Christmases past. During high school, Charles discovers the disconcerting truth about his real father and heritage. Depression sets in, and an attempted suicide follows. Charles is diagnosed with “being bipolar.” Determined to have nothing to do with the disease, Charles throws away his prescription of Lithium, leaves his hometown of Buffalo, New York, and takes a computer position with a Fortune 500 company in Houston, Texas. Although sitting rather comfortably, unresolved conflict continues to raise its ugly head, and history has an eerie way of repeating itself — especially when he gets involved with Bernadette.
Thomas J. Chimera’s debut novel takes readers on nothing less than a journey into a dysfunctional realm. Chimera’s first-person account may be a total work of fiction, but it, nonetheless, reads like a memoir. A victim of his own familial upbringing, Charles shares what life is like growing up in a quasi-pleasant-often-quirky environs, only to learn that he’s clearly been lied to by the people he loves most. While Chimera’s narrative is filled with one un-pleasantry after the other, he is able to keep it light and flowing by throwing in a good handful of comedic moments.
Much of Chimera’s narrative has a Garrison-Keillor feel to it as stories sometimes evolve into others, or, in many cases, they are just a random set that neatly fits within specific chronological time frames. While Chimera’s stories are interesting, there is not much in the way of elements of surprise. And certainly readers who are looking for a skewed fictional novel filled with a plethora of un-hackneyed scenes, will be sorely disappointed with Chimera’s anecdotes. However, those who have experienced their fair share of dysfunctional family situations, especially mixed with some form of mental illness (which could easily be more readers than one may think – who knows?), will find Buffalo Poker the next best intriguing read.