Title: The Silent Hustler
Author: Sean Meriwether
Genre: contemporary literary fiction, erotica, single author anthology
Other information/warnings: Explicit content.
Summary (from the publisher): Best known for being the editor of edgy gay fiction of the Velvet Mafia website, Sean Meriwether has quietly been writing short fiction and building up a body of his own work. The Silent Hustler collects his short fiction published over the last decade. Meriwether’s fiction spans in range from the literary (“Things I Can’t Tell My Father”) to the revolutionary (“Burn the Rich”) to the downright raunchy (“Sneaker Queen”). Slip into bed with The Silent Hustler. You won’t feel guilty in the morning.
My Review: For years, Sean Meriwether has served as editor of two of the most cutting-edge web magazines out there: Outsider Ink (now shuttered) and Velvet Mafia: Dangerous Queer Fiction. During his time with both markets, Meriwether has found exceptional literature by some of the best writers working. Occasionally he’s also thrown one of his own works into the mix and that is how I first discovered Meriwether as an author in his own right. Over the years, Meriwether has been amassing an enviable body of work and that, my friends, is a very good thing for us.
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 “www.menschangingroom.com.” 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.