Sean Meriwether is a powerhouse of a writer. If you didn’t know that from his terrific online ‘zine, Velvet Mafia or from any of his entries in various anthologies, The Silent Hustler, a new collection of his short fiction, will convince you.
The book is organized into three sections: “Frankenstein, Alone in the Country,” a series of stories featuring teen protagonist Ryan Wolff and his socio-sexual adventures, “Boys in the City,” about … um … boys in the city and “Sax and Violins,” which draws together some wild work with miscellaneous themes. But don’t let that stop you from dipping into this book anywhere. You’re sure to come up with a plum no matter which pie you choose.
If it’s raunch you want, go for “Sneaker Queen,” a crotch-felt ode to sweaty footwear. If it’s a young-man’s-first-day-in-NYC story you’re looking for, “So Long Anita Bryant, and Thanks for Everything” will fill the bill nicely. Literary ambitions? Rimbaud, William Burroughs, James Baldwin and Truman Capote collide in “Read Any Good Books Lately?” Want a short shock? Try “Hands.” And if you’ve ever entertained fantasies about having sex in Trent Lott’s bathroom, “The Bathroom Rebellion” is for you.
But those aren’t the only places Meriwether takes his readers. “Exiles” combines poetic prose and ghosts in a one-of-a-kind mental haunting while “Boys in Summer” is a finely-drawn cameo of an ever-changing relationship between two men and the waiter they flirt with over brunch. “Knives and Roses” delves deep inside the psyche of a gay-bashing victim who obsesses over the tattoo his attacker displays, and “We Three Thieves” is a great robbery-gone-wrong story populated by film-noirish rednecks – the sort of absurd blend Meriwether has mastered.
But out of all the stories, my absolute favorites are the uncategorized two which lead off the collection: “Things I Can’t Tell My Father” and “Ice Water.” The former is a plotless list of episodes, each no longer than eight or ten lines, that together form a devestatingly frank portrait of a father and son relationship. “Ice Water” examines the same subject but in far more detail. Meriwether is at his best here, telling the story but leaving just enough out so that the reader can use his own experiences to fill in the blanks for maximum identification. Brilliant stuff.
Meriwether’s prose is sexy and sumptuous, and he never over-reaches himself. As wild as the plot is, he makes it work – alternating sheer lyricism with stark raunch until the lines are so blurred your head swims and you love reeling about in the spaces between. His insights are sharp and his points even sharper. This is a wonderful collection from a first-rate writer. I can only hope one day he tries the longer novel form. Now, that would be a treat indeed.
Until he does, The Silent Hustler definitely satisfies.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler