The obvious tension in the story is between the psychologist, Dr. Raymond Oss, and his patient, Mr. Gary Sharpe. Right from the beginning, Sharpe has an antagonistic approach to his visit and the amount of money the sessions are costing him. Nevertheless, he continues to see the doctor for over year. The primary and underlying tension is the more personal tension between Sharpe and Oss. Oss is a gambler himself, perhaps a sometime addict, and Sharpe is the winner of the 2003 World Series of Poker. Their meetings resemble something for poker game, as Oss tries to find out information from Sharpe to help him deal with his issues with his father. This fact-finding mission cumulates in an actual poker match in the end of the story.
Tension is constructed by the poker game like interactions that Oss and Sharpe exhibit in their sessions. This tension builds into the climax that is resolved with Sharpe showing the overconfident Oss that it is actually he who is donkey in their relationship. The “donkey” of course meaning a “shit player,” both in poker and in life. This plot point is used to illustrate what Sharpe says in the end, “The man who can’t lose always does. Did you learn nothing from our work?” This question is used to show that while Sharpe was the one who sought Oss’ help, he (by the nature of his personality) was also there to teach Oss a few things.
In this story, setting is developed using plot and character. Almond spends very little time describing rooms and places except with a few extreme the well-placed details such as smell. For example, the casino, Artichoke Joe’s, is portrayed as a place with “confusion of colognes and nicotine.” The simple image is enough to capture the mood. Almond also takes time to slowly develop his characters, both physically and psychologically. He does not introduce them entirely right in the beginning but instead holds on to certain details until the last possible time. For example, the readers don’t learn that Oss wears hats until the middle of the story when Sharpe mocks him about hiding his baldness. Likewise, the readers also don’t learn that Sharpe found his dead father’s body hanging with shit on his pants until the very end. Since Sharpe stops attending meetings after mistakingly revealing this information to Oss, his treatment of Oss at the poker table appears to be an act of vengeance. Thus, the characters seem to create the plot and the setting, allowing the story to masterfully succeed at what it’s trying to achieve.