The Silent Hustler Paperback – Oct 23 2009
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The collection is presented in four parts. The first are two connected stories which are arguably some of the strongest. The honesty of the flawed relationship between a son and his father shows the complexity of such a connection and a brief glimpse into hidden thoughts. From there, a series of connected stories about a young boy named Ryan and his experiences, hopes, dreams, and fantasies in school offer a look at a young gay boy that both hates and loves his tormentors. The confusion of adolescence is beautifully contrasted to the danger of risky choices. The next linked section offers an older look, young men coming out and living in New York City. Here the stories offer touching, charming, and sometimes highly erotic glimpses into fantasies, desires, and heart break. The last grouping is a mixture of sci-fi and grunge/punk stories that show an edgy strength unlike anything else I've read.
Each of the stories shows clean writing and a minimum of prose. There is no need for extraneous, lengthy description when Meriwether offers a lush, gritty environment with just a few words. The turns of phrase are simple yet convey a wealth of meaning from whimsical to dark and gothic. The transformation of a young boy to a cultured, experience man is shown in the progression of the stories. Some are harsh, offering dark consequences and bitter answers while others are sweet and hopeful. The contrast also shows the breadth of the author's ability in writing both beautifully and without missing a step. The focus is not so much on the action but the men and their setting. The themes explored run the gamut of issues, ideas, fantasies, and desires that gay men experience. Innocence, love, lust, confusion, relationships, identity, failure, and crime are all areas this collection touches upon. These are not always happy, feel good stories with tidy endings. The men involved are honest, messy, selfish, foolish, lost, needy, funny, smart, and above all real reflections of people.
The stories are also highly erotic. This is not a flowery eroticism meant solely to entice yet the authentic situations and men's reality offer vivid descriptions that can't fail. From the raunchy yet delightful "Sneaker Queen" about a hilarious shoe fetish to the youthful sexual awakening in "The Theory of Forward Motion" and the fascinating parade of men in "For Hire," these all show erotic elements in many different ways. Even the sci-fi, edgy "Rumford's Fluid" successfully mixes hope, science, and erotic desire. Each man introduced blends with their setting and crisp dialogue to give an appealing look even when the actions and outcome are grim and disturbing. Often instead of a young man being used by an older, more experienced predator, these stories turn that paradigm around and show a young man just barely sexually aware and yearning for these dark experiences without knowing the consequences. The dark, edgy world of convicts and outsiders appealing to innocent young men twists the common theme with incredible ease.
The anthology parallels its own growth and offers clever and witty ideas among the mixture of themes. From one story to the next you never know where you're going or what new fantasy will occur or who's view will you see - the predator or the victim. It's incredibly hard to pick a favorite from the bounty that is offered in this collection. The stunning literary work of "Things I Can't Tell My Father" or "So Long Anita Bryant and Thanks for Everything" sits well next to the whimsical and haunting "Boys in Summer" and harsh light of "Read Any Good Books Lately?" The first and last sections stand out for their innovation and daring, edgy themes. The haunting memory of the stories seems to linger even after reading them. The best I can offer is to read the collection for yourself and likely in order, to enjoy the progression of excellence.
I've always enjoyed Meriwether's stories and I've always known that he is a damn good writer, but until I read his collected works in The Silent Hustler, I didn't fully realize just how exceptional a writer he is. When you read one of Meriwether's works as a stand-alone, you always come away satisfied, perhaps a little (and sometimes a lot) aroused, and definitely emotionally affected, though on the latter you might never quite be able to put your finger on the emotions you are feeling or how Meriwether pulled them out of you. His prose is clean and evocative, creating place and time with the simplest turns of a phrase, and his dialog is impeccable, sounding like real men in very real situations. There are no contrivances here. Not of character. Not of story. No manipulation. Just straight out stories about real people. And when read together as a whole, these works blend seamlessly together to take us on a really interesting and varied journey of growing, becoming and living as a gay man.
The journey starts off with the "literary" (although, honestly, all of it is literary) "Things I Can't Tell My Father." It's part tribute, part indictment, and an always honest look at a father and his son. It's alternately melancholic and funny, touching and bitter, joyful and sad. It also serves as a cautionary tale of how one's actions make your children who they become even if you don't realize it. It packs an emotional wallop, but it isn't heavy handed. And that's the key to this collection. It's understated. There's no manufactured drama here, it's all very real and quietly, almost subversively, effective.
Many of the pieces in this collection would be classified as "erotica," and let me tell you it is erotica in the very best sense of the word. The majority of the stories are sizzling hot, but what I appreciate about each one is that Meriwether never loses the men behind the acts. Unlike much erotica these days these days, Meriwether keeps his characters firmly rooted in their realities. Character never suffers for the sex and, most importantly, Meriwether imbues every single story with the emotional impetus for the sex. Whether it's melancholia, insecurity or unbridled lust that drives the characters towards the sex, it is never superfluous. Take for example "[...]" Man, this is a hot, erotic piece, but as we draw to a close, Meriwether reveals the emotion that leads out narrator to that site. "Sneaker Queen" is another one that--pun completely intended--sneaks up on you. I don't want to say much more than that. Needless to say, even with the most erotic pieces in this collection, you are going to get a wonderful depth of character and emotion to go along with all the steamy bits. And that makes the sex all that more fulfilling doesn't it?
Now, when one reads a single author anthology it is inevitable that you hit a story that just doesn't speak to you, one that you might secretly skim to the end. I've done it with some of my favorite authors. Well, I can honestly say that there is not a single story in this collection that doesn't work. Each is so incredibly nuanced that you want to savor every word. That's the brilliance of Meriwether's writing...he gives a lot in it and keeps you right there with the characters.
Perhaps--for me, anyway--the story that best represents the complexity of Meriwether's work and this collection is "So Long Anita Bryant And Thanks For Everything." Boy this story packs a lot in. It is incredibly touching, instantly recreating the time of the "Save our Children" campaign Bryant waged against us, and incredibly sexy all at once. Meriwether manages to capture how Bryant demoralized and vilified us, yet also unintentionally empowered us to fight for what should be ours. We also get to experience (or, in the case of us older folks, relive), the wide-eyed innocence of realizing there are others like us out there, that we aren't freaks, and the headiness of realizing--on an sexual level--that there are so many of us out there. And when the narrator announces, "I'm here to fight Anita Bryant," your heart swells with the young man's newfound pride. It's a story of innocence lost, pride discovered and adulthood born. A brilliant piece.
In the end, all the pieces work together--not something that can be aid of every single-author collection--blending seamlessly together to take us on an interesting, erotic, emotional and most importantly a literary journey of growing, becoming and living as a gay man. A tour de force that is not to be missed. 10 out of 10 stars.
The 2nd half is a more action-driven variety: all erotic, some violent, psychotic, tragic. Every time I thought a story couldn't possibly go there, off it went dinging every boundary. I'm not sure if I loved this portion, exactly, or that the s***load of brutality was too fascinating to stop. Whatever the case, it's impressive.
A definite recommend, especially to those who want something off the mainstream grid.