The Music of Chance

by Paul Auster
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 636

The Music of Chance is the story of two drifters who lose everything in a poker game with two eccentric lottery winners and agree to pay off their debt by erecting a stone wall. As they perform this mindless labor, they find that instead of forfeiting their freedom, they have simply replaced one illusion of freedom with another.

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Jim Nashe and Jack Pozzi are the main characters in the novel. Nashe is recovering from a trying period in his life following a devastating divorce. His way of coping was to quit his job, empty his bank account, and take off for a year of relentless cross-country driving. Near the end of his travels, just north of New York City, he spots Pozzi stumbling along the side of the road, beaten and broke after an ill-fated poker game. Nashe is sympathetic and, after hearing Pozzi’s story, agrees to bankroll Pozzi in a poker game with two millionaire lottery winners named Flower and Stone. After a brief stopover in New York, Nashe and Pozzi head for southeastern Pennsylvania, where Flower and Stone, who live in a crumbling old mansion, show them the house and feed them children’s food for dinner. Flower, Stone, and Pozzi then begin the poker game as Nashe watches. At one point, Nashe leaves the room for quite a while; upon his return, he finds that Pozzi is having a losing streak that continues until he loses everything. As a last resort, they cut the deck for ten thousand dollars—and Pozzi loses again.

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Latest answer posted September 3, 2015, 2:57 pm (UTC)

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To pay off their debt to Flower and Stone, Nashe and Pozzi agree to hire on as stonemasons, at ten dollars an hour, to build a wall from a stockpile of huge stones the millionaires have had shipped from Ireland. The job looks impossible, but the two men throw themselves into it; after a while, as their bodies toughen, they get into harmony with the project and even resist efforts to lighten the task. To make sure they do not escape, there is a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire surrounding the area and an overseer named Murks present to keep an eye on them. When Nashe and Pozzi finally fulfill their bargain and pay off their debt, they are still broke, so they ask if they can stay on and earn some money for themselves. Flower and Stone agree, and Nashe and Pozzi decide to celebrate with a party. Food and drink are brought, as well as the services of a prostitute from Atlantic City named Tiffany. After the party is over, Nashe and Pozzi learn that the cost for the party is to be added on to the balance they owe Stone and Flower. This so angers Pozzi that he decides to run away.

The next day Nashe sees Pozzi, beaten and bloody, lying half-dead in the mud outside the trailer. Murks takes him to the hospital, but Nashe never hears from him again and suspects the worst. In an effort to learn the truth about Pozzi, Nashe talks Murks into bringing Tiffany back for another party, his intention being to get her to find out about Pozzi and get a message back to Nashe. Before Nashe has time to receive any word back from Tiffany, he agrees to accompany Murks and his son-in-law Floyd to a roadhouse for a few drinks. It is a snowy night, with the weather deteriorating rapidly. Since the car they take is Nashe’s old Saab, Nashe asks if he can drive the car on the way back. Murks and Floyd agree, and Nashe is joyful as he takes the wheel and heads back through the blinding snow. As conditions grow worse, Nashe drives faster and faster; mesmerized by the blinding light of an oncoming train, he heads straight for it.

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