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Book Review: "Ringolevio" by Emmett Grogan

by Annie Kapur about a year ago in literature

5/5 - The great game of life...

Here's a picture of my copy

This book is possibly one of the coolest and most intense autobiographies I’ve ever read. It starts off like a game and teaches you how to ‘play the game of life’. Just check out the opening of the book and see if you can resist:

“It’s a game. A game played on the streets of New York, for as long as anyone can remember. It’s called Ringolevio, and the rules are simple. There are two sides, each with the same number of players. There are no time limits, no intermissions, no substitutes and no weapons allowed. There are two jails. There is one objective. Each side tries to capture and jail the members of the other side, while maintaining the freedom of its own teammates. When everyone on one side is captured, the other team wins.” (p.3)

Throughout the book, it references parts of the game including going to real jail instead of just the one in the game. This shows us that the beginning of the book introduces the reader to a game that, in reality, represents what life is. It is playing a game, it is moving around the board called the world, it is about doing as much as you can with the small space of time you have with the people who support you without going to jail. If you do go to jail then you have to do all you can to get out, including things like bribery.

When things change in the story, the name of the game remains exactly as it was, and that is no matter how many things change. Some of the changes are building up towards the famed year of 1969 in which the game will be played with a great degree of confidence and want as a reaction towards the hippie generation’s narcissism and brand endorsement that turns revolution into a corporate object for pulling consumers. Just check out where things begin to change in context, in place and in time:

“It was the last Sunday in November of 1965 and his twenty-first birthday when Kenny Wisdom landed at Idlewild Airport, which had been renamed John Fitzgerald Kennedy. A lot of things had changed. Kenny’s parents had moved to a different section of Brooklyn a few years back. He took the crumpled they had written him about their change of address from his pocket and dialled their new phone number from a booth at the airport." (p.211)

Throughout the book there are other references to the game and references to the roles of specific people who are playing certain roles in the game or who “aren’t playing the role of the crowd”. There are players and there are spectators and it seems to me that this is the whole point of the book. The book’s point is to make the reader feel like the spectator in the crowd to this entire story and I love it. You see the Jesuit Priest leaving the school, you see what happens when they run off to Italy, you get the inside deal to all of their love affairs, the theft of the jewels and more. One thing that I love about this book though is the ending, where there is a small dedication to a man who changed the author’s life - Kenny Wisdom. I’m not going to tell you exactly what happens but it is one beautiful ending and makes you want to turn all the way back to the beginning and read it again. Read it again with more open eyes now that you know what the closing is. It changes your entire perspective on the book and why exactly this game is being played.

All in all, though this book is quite dense, I have to say that a lot happens and a lot actually takes place with a large cast of characters. Kenny and Emmett are the main characters who go along meeting and greeting other characters along the way. The change in years shows us exactly how time changes character and how time, however small, can make all the difference. It is both something extraordinary and something really mundane. From changing the name of the airport to calling his mother about what is for dinner, Kenny is the direct representation of the change of time and place.


Annie Kapur

Film and Writing (M.A)

130K+ Reads on Vocal

IG: @AnnieApproximately

Pronouns: (she/her/hers)

Read next: Best Indie Games

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