The Hustler – Walter Tevis
Despite being written way back in 1959, there is a reason that The Hustler by Walter Tevis is still widely regarded as one of the best novels ever written about billiards. The very first of its kind written about the game that is over 400 years old and was made into a successful film in 1961, starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason. Of course, as all purists say “the book was better.”
The story follows our anti-hero, “Fast” Eddie Felson as he travels up and down the country as a poolroom hustler. He manages to convince strangers that they can beat him at the game, but he has, in fact, never lost at Billiards, and is secretly an incredible player. That is until he meets Minnesota Fats, an even better player who causes Eddie to lose his first game, a chunk of money, and some of his confidence; causing an internal battle with his self-esteem.
The story is beautifully written, with none of the needless fake glamors or forced happy ending that so many other books would shoehorn in. An easily digestible, elegantly written, really rather fantastic piece of literature, full of flawless contextual metaphors and an overt narrative. Within the 224 or so pages, you will be transported to the dark underbelly of Chicago’s pool hustling scene, and into the psyche of one man whose entire livelihood and self-worth are tied to billiards.
Although it is not a self-help book, it is pretty inspiring. The inner turmoils of Eddie remind us all of the will power and the importance of not giving up – although that is a far too simplified version of the message that Tevis has managed to write.
Fans of the movie who have not yet read the novel might notice the lack of focus on a traditional love story in the book; however, the love for the game is just as passionate. Love interest Sarah is present, but the focus is certainly on the game, rather than the dame. Those who have a love affair with the America of the 1950s will adore the descriptions of the era – so well written that you will be transported to the dimly-lit pool halls of yesteryear.
The Hustler is a perfect book for lovers of pool games, players of sports or anyone who has ever hunted down success (and those who have been unsuccessful in it!).