Citizen Vince

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Yeah, okay, he says. As they exchange dope for money, the guy shakes his head. Vince nods, although in his estimation the world is made of only such people, pot-smoking cops, thieves who tithe 10 percent, society women who wear garters, tramps who sleep with stuffed bears, criminal donut makers, real estate hookers. He remembers a firefighter in the old neighborhood named Alvin Dunphy who was claustrophobic. Died when a burning apartment building collapsed on him. He has been quiet, lost in thought, hungover from a night of disquieting dreams. He sits perfectly still, leaning forward on his knees, staring off to the side, his cards stacked neatly in front of him.

Light comes from a couple of bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling and a lamp behind the bar. There are six tables in two main rooms—poker games going on at two of the tables; at the other four, people are eating ribs. Four women, including Beth and her best friend, Angela, sit at the bar, swirling drinks made from the bottles Eddie keeps under the counter. Vince sits up and pushes the hair out of his eyes.

Snaps a five into the pot without looking at his cards. Eventually, they all know Vince will hold forth: What do I think? I think you could reasonably have a half. Honestly, the first part is the best part anyway, and some people say that the end is the death of the thing. Or at least when it all goes downhill. The other guys exchange glances. Everyone has heard the whispered talk about Vince—the sudden appearance, the New York accent, the proficiency at cards, women, and crime.

It is a reputation that Vince has been able to sustain without ever acknowledging—his past in winks and nods. Petey asks. Baking school. The guys laugh. Vince tosses two fives on the table for the drinks. Four-thirty A. Fellas, he says, and taps the roll of bills. Having finished their ribs and settled with their pimps, the hookers are standing in a clutch at the door. Arms trail his sleeves, lacquered nails riffle his hair. Vince moves through like an aging idol. At the door, he exchanges lifted credit cards and lids of pot for cash and fleshy hugs.

When his cards and pot are gone, Vince continues out the door. Outside, he hears his name. He turns and sees Beth looking at her shoes. Thanks for earlier, Vince, she says. You been studying? As long as Vince has known her, Beth has been studying to get her real estate license.

She studies, but never actually signs up to take the test. She shrugs. I get to run an open house next week. Sort of a trial run. Very funny. She squeezes his arm, does that thing with her eyes again—up and down, a flash of release—then turns to go back inside. Who was that girl from junior high school?

Got drunk with some older kids and stepped in front of a car. Angie Wolfe. Only six blocks to the donut shop and he likes the walk fine in the crisp cold, sun still a rumor on the Idaho border, his shadow slowing up for him as he nears the next streetlight.

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What about old Danello, whose body was never technically found? The donut shop is regrettably named Donut Make You Hungry, and is owned by Ted and Marcie, an old gray couple who come in for a few minutes every day to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee with their old gray friends. It works fine for Vince; he gets to manage the place, and Ted and Marcie give him all the space he needs. He approaches the building—fever-colored stucco on a busy corner a mile from downtown.

Lights on inside. Vince walks down the alley to grab the newspaper, slides the rubber band off, and stands beneath a flickering streetlight to make out the front page: Carter and Reagan in a dead heat, with the debate tonight. The Iranian parliament is meeting to look for a solution to the hostage crisis. Alabama plus fifteen at Mississippi State. Seems heavy. Vince closes the paper and starts for the front door when something moves in his periphery. He cocks his head and takes a step deeper into the alley, clutching the paper to his chest.

A car starts.


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Its lights come on and Vince reflexively covers his eyes while the old voices tell him to run. But there is no place to dive in this alley, nowhere to hide, so he waits. Get it? Len runs a stereo store where Vince uses the phony credit cards to buy merchandise, and get cash advances. Len removes the aviator sunglasses he wears even at night, and slides them into his shirt pocket. Finally, Len withdraws the unshaken hand. We do this on Friday. Vince walks back to the open car window. You buy shit with my credit cards. Since when is that an end? Just meet with this guy, Vince. Len presses the button to roll up his window.

The car pauses at the corner—a wink from the brake lights—and turns, Vince alone in the alley, watching his own breath. He looks down the alley once more, then starts for the donut shop. Vince hates alleys. Jimmy Plums got piped in an alley outside a strip club when he went off to piss. They made it look like a robbery, but everyone knew that Jimmy got taken off for a deep skim on some jukeboxes in Howard Beach.

Or forty-two? Oh, great. Every night, Tic drinks and smokes pot until three in the morning, has breakfast, goes to. This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue? Upload Sign In Join. Save For Later. Create a List. Citizen Vince by Jess Walter. Summary At a.

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Read on the Scribd mobile app Download the free Scribd mobile app to read anytime, anywhere. I Chapter I One day you know more dead people than live ones. Gratis, quotes the passenger. And after a pause: Means free. Vince stares straight ahead. Not your business. Tell this guy to let go of me! Vince leans down and opens the car door. Hey, Beth. The guy is incredulous. You were blowing me!

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The guy holds up the twenty. I gave you forty! You got half, she says. You get half your money back.

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He looks up at Vince. Is there such thing as half? How old were you, Petey? The first time? Bump a buck. No shit? Wish I had a sister. Got cards for us, Vinnie? You got any smoke? Vince asks. Vince bends at the waist. Jesus, Len. What are you doing here? What are you doing here, Lenny? Vince repeats. I came for my credit cards, man. I know that. I know that, too. Then why are you here on Tuesday? I just thought you might have cards today. Len nods and checks his rearview mirror. Vince straightens up and cranes his neck to see down the alley.

Why are you doing that? Doing what? Looking down the alley.

What do you mean? Is someone down there? Vince points down the alley. Back there. You keep checking your rearview.

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Len puts his sunglasses back on. Vince starts to walk away. Vince turns back—cold. What do you mean, a new guy? Yeah, I got that part. Who is he? Just a guy to help out on my end. His name is Ray. Start your free 30 days. Page 1 of 1. Jess Walter is an excellent writer.

I get the same feeling from him as I do from a Nick Hornby novel. This books take place the week before the election. The main character Vince lives in Spokane as part of the witness protection program and will be voting for the 1st time. The voting thing is a running backdrop to this story about a life long petty criminal who is trying to change his life.

His old life intrudes and creates the action of the story. This book is filled with great characters, good writing, and was a page book that I read in 2 days. My second Jess Walter book and I look forward to reading all of his stuff. I came across this book totally by accident, but it was a fortunate accident. A very clever plot and great characterisation drive this book on. Highly enjoyable and a writer to follow. I don't know of any award for best political novel of the year, but if there were, "Citizen Vince" might have won that, too. Vince Camden's real name is Marty Hagan.

He's an ex-con who was convicted of his first felony in his teens and has never been eligible to vote in his life. Yet he's now living in Spokane under a new identity in the witness protection program, and with the new identity, his felonies are erased and a card arrives in the mail making him a registered voter. Never mind that Marty, now, Vince, continues to work the old credit card scam he did back in New York. He just hasn't been caught yet. But Vince learns Ray Sticks, a notorious mob hit man, is looking for him.

Assuming the New York mob has found him and is trying to settle old scores, Vince returns to New York to try to buy his life back. The mobster takes his money but tells Vince the actual price is to kill Ray Sticks, who also turns out to be in the witness protection program.

All this takes place in late October and early November in , when Ronald Reagan is challenging Jimmy Carter for the presidency. Vince may be battling for his life, but he's also, for the first time in his life, fascinated by the upcoming election. In a key scene, with Vince and Beth, his prostitute girlfriend, in grave danger, he manages to talk Sticks him into letting him vote.

The novel has a bit of the grit and the unpredictability of an Elmore Leonard story, yet "Citizen Vince" also reads like a literary novel. Jess Walter could have won an award for that, as well.


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Jess Walter has that "magic something" that puts him a notch above most contemporary novelists. There are so many ways in which this novel about a small time criminal living in Spokane, WA in a witness protection program could have gone wrong. Basic plot elements, style and charachters could easily have led this book straight into the immense garbage bin where not-that-good crime novels belong. But Walter adds his secret ingredients and this potentially weak noir story becomes a unique, brilliant, powerful, living and breathing work with the complexity and the cohesion of the best novels ever written.

Some reviewers said this is a book about citizenship as a conquer, and they are right. The gangsters of New York will likely be familiar to most readers, and the dilemma of who to vote for Carter or Reagan takes up a significant portion of the book. I still enjoyed the book though. Hornby is actually the reason I read this book, as he recommended it in his collection of reading essays Ten Years in the Tub. You are commenting using your WordPress.

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