The Music of Chance
is an absurdist novel by Paul Auster. Published in 1990, the novel was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction the following year and was made into a film in 1993.
The book tells the story of Jim Nashe, a professional firefighter in Boston, Massachusetts, who has just been left by his wife Thérèse. Feeling overcome by grief and unprepared to handle the burden of raising their daughter, Juliette, on his own, Jim gives his sister custody. Shortly thereafter, a lawyer contacts Jim to inform him that his estranged father has passed away, leaving him $200, 000 in his will. Jim quits his job to embark on an aimless, year-long road trip.
As time goes on, Jim’s money slowly begins to dwindle away. One day while on the road, Jim picks up a hitchhiker. The man introduces himself as Jack Pozzi, a professional gambler. Jack tells him a story about how he recently played poker against two millionaires, Bill Flower and Willie Stone. He tells Jim that if he gives him some money to help him buy into another game against Flower and Stone, he can make the two of them a lot of money.
Jim and Jack drive to New York City where they play poker together. Jim admires Jack’s skills and the two men bond over Jack’s personal story. All of these factors combine to persuade
Jim to take Jack up on his offer, and he agrees to give him the money to buy into the poker game with Flower and Stone. They drive to Stone and Flower’s mansion in Pennsylvania. Stone is a former accountant and Flower was an optometrist, but they made their real fortune by playing the lottery and investing their winnings.
Jim gives Jack $10,000 for his buy-in, and Jack, Stone, and Flower begin playing poker. The game starts of well, Jack is ahead, but by the end of the game, Jim and Jack are in debt to Stone and Flower for $10,000. To repay their debt, Jim and Jack are put to work helping to build a wall on Stone and Flower’s estate, a plan that the men have had in the works for a while.
The next day, Jim and Jack get to work to start building the stonewall. They are under the supervision of Calvin Murks, the handyman employed by Flower and Stone. The work is tiring and physically taxing. When they are not working, Jim and Jack have set up camp in a trailer on the property. They return there to rest at the end of the day. They are under the constant surveillance of Murks, who has been ordered not to let them out of his sight lest they run away. Jack becomes disgruntled, frustrated by the turn of events, and one day he snaps and punches Murks in the face. The next day, Murks shows up to the job site with a gun in a holster on his hip.
Finally, the day arrives where Jim and Jack believe they have worked enough to pay off their debt. Stone and Flower agree and allow Jim and Jack to have a celebratory party in their trailer. However, the next day, they tell them that they still have a debt to pay off for their food as well as the cost of the party. At his wit’s end, Jack decides that he must escape at once. Jim helps him to dig a hole under the fence of Stone and Flower’s property, aiding him with his escape. Jim decides that he will stay and work until his debt is paid off.
When Jim wakes for work the next morning, he finds Jack outside the trailer, beaten and bloodied. When Murks arrives, he examines Jack’s injuries and says that he will take him to the hospital in his truck. Murks takes Jack away, but Jim is suspicious, doubting that they are heading to the hospital. He believes that Murks is responsible for Jack’s injuries. He suspects that instead of taking Jack to the hospital, Murks plans to kill him. Jim formulates a plan in which he will continue working to pay off his debts, plus an additional week in order to cover some travel expenses. He then plans to go to the police to report what has happened to Jack.
On Jim’s last day of work, Murks takes him into town for drinks to celebrate having paid off his debt. After they have some drinks, Murks lets Jim drive the truck back to Stone and Flower’s property. While driving, Jim becomes momentarily distracted and notices that he is about to hit another car. Realizing that a head-on collision is unavoidable at this point, instead of swerving or hitting the brakes, he accelerates hard.