Improbable: A Novel

Improbable: A Novel

by Adam Fawer

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback - Reprint)

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From a brilliant new talent comes a riveting novel of chance, fate, and numbers, and one man's strange journey past the boundaries of the possible.

David Caine inhabits a world of obsession, rich rewards, and rapid, destructive downfalls. A compulsive gambler and brilliant mathematician prone to crippling epileptic seizures, he possesses the uncanny ability to calculate odds of any hand in the blink of an eye. But one night at an underground poker club, Caine makes a costly mi scalculation, sending his life spinning out of control. Desperate, he agrees to test an experimental drug with unnerving side effects: inexplicable visions of the past, present, and future. Unsure whether he's perceiving an alternate reality or suffering a psychotic breakdown, Caine embarks on a journey that stretches beyond the possible into the world of the improbable. Gradually, he discovers the extent of his astonishing new ability — but powerful, shadowy forces know Caine's secret. Now Caine must fight for his survival — and his sanity . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060736781
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/31/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 464
Product dimensions: 6.62(w) x 4.22(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Adam Fawer holds undergraduate and master's degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and received an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. During his corporate career, Fawer worked for a variety of companies including Sony Music, J.P. Morgan, and most recently,, where he was the chief operating officer. Improbable, his first novel, has already been translated into five languages. Fawer lives in New York with his partner, Meredith, and far too many pet fish.

Read an Excerpt


By Fawer, Adam

William Morrow & Company

ISBN: 0060736771

Chapter One

"It's twenty to you, Caine. In or out?"

David Caine could hear the words, but he couldn't respond; his nose wouldn't let him. The smell was unlike anything he had experienced before -- a perverse stew of rancid meat and rotten eggs floating in a vat of urine. He had read on the Internet that some people killed themselves because the smell got so bad. At first he didn't believe it, but now ... now it didn't seem so crazy.

Even though he knew that the smell was a by-product of a few confused nerve cells, it didn't matter. According to his brain, the smell was real. More real than the cloud of cigarette smoke hovering over the table. More real than the greasy scent of McDonald's that still hung in the air from Walter's midnight snack. More real than the smell of sweat mixed with despair that permeated the entire room.

The smell was so bad that his eyes had begun to water, but as bad as it was, Caine didn't hate it as much as what it represented. The smell meant that another one was coming, and judging by the intensity of the vomit inducing, brain-crying stench, it was going to be a doozy. Worse still, it was coming on fast, and of all the times it could happen, he couldn't afford to have it happen now.

Caine squeezed his eyes shut for a moment in a vain attempt to hold off fate. Then he opened them and stared at the crumpled red-and-yellow box of fries sitting in front of Walter. Itpulsed before his eyes like a cardboard heart. Caine turned away, suddenly afraid he might puke.

"David, are you okay?"

Caine felt a warm hand on his shoulder. It was Sister Mary Straight, an ex-nun with oversize dentures that were older than he was. She was the only woman at the table -- hell, she was the only woman in the whole club except for the two emaciated Romanian waitresses Nikolaev kept around to make sure no one ever had a reason to get up. But Sister Mary was the only female player. Despite that everyone called her "Sister," she was more like a surrogate mother to the men who lived down in the cellar or, as the Russians liked to call it, the podvaal.

Technically, no one truly lived in the podvaal, but Caine was willing to bet that if he asked any of the twenty-odd men crowded around the tables where they felt most alive, they'd say it was here, in the cramped, windowless basement fifteen feet below the East Village. All the regulars were like Caine. Gamblers. Addicts. Sure, some had fancy offices on Wall Street or important-sounding jobs in midtown and business cards with raised silver lettering, but they all knew none of that mattered. All that mattered were the cards you were dealt and whether you were in.

Every night they returned to the cramped basement beneath Chernobyl, the Russian supper club on Avenue D. Although the bar was dirty, the games Vitaly Nikolaev ran were clean. When Caine first laid eyes on Vitaly, with his pasty white complexion and thin, girlish arms, Caine would have guessed he was a CPA rather than a Russian mobster.

But all his doubts disappeared the night when Vitaly Nikolaev beat the living shit out of Melvin Schuster, a harmless old man who picked the wrong club to cheat. Before Caine knew what was happening, Nikolaev had transformed the paunchy grandfather's face into a red, pulpy mess. No one ever cheated at the podvaal after that.

And yet this was the place Caine chose to call home. The minuscule studio he had on the Upper West Side was just where he slept, showered, and occasionally shaved. Every now and then, he would get a girl to come up, but that hadn't happened in a long while. Not surprising, considering the only woman Caine had any interaction with was Sister Mary.

"David, are you all right?" Sister's question brought Caine back to the world of the living. He blinked his eyes and gave Sister a quick nod, which was enough to make his nausea return.

"Yeah, I'm cool, Sister. Thanks."

"You sure? Because you look a little green."

"Just trying to earn some green," Caine said with a halfhearted grin.

"Are we through coffee-housing, or you two wanna get a room?" Walter sneered through yellowing teeth. He leaned in close enough for Caine to smell the onions on his breath. "Twenty. To. You. In. Or. Out?"

Caine looked down at his hand and then again at the up cards, stretching his long, sinewy arms over his head of unruly black hair. He pushed the nausea back down his throat and forced himself to ignore the smell as he decided what to do.

"Stop running the odds and bet," Walter said, picking at a hangnail.

Caine was known for doing the complex math in his head necessary to calculate the odds of nearly anything. The only variable that Caine couldn't quantify was the probability that his opponents were bluffing, but he tried nonetheless. Caine felt like Walter was purposely trying to rush him, so he gave the old man a bored look and continued analyzing the board.

The game was Texas Hold 'Em and the rules were simple. Each player was dealt two cards, which was followed by "the flop" when three cards were turned over for everyone to see. Then the dealer would flip over a fourth card, known as "the turn," and then the fifth and final card, known as "the river." There was a round of betting after each flip, and then the players revealed. Whoever had the best fivecard poker hand -- out of the five shared cards in the middle and the two cards in his hand -- won.

The beauty of the game was that at any given moment an intelligent player could look at the board and know the best possible hand that could be made ... Continues...

Excerpted from Improbable by Fawer, Adam Excerpted by permission.
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