A guest review by Jenre
Best known for editing the 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.
The Silent Hustler is a collection of short stories by gay fiction writer Sean Meriwether. These stories are not romance, although some of the stories are romantic in tone, so those of you who are only interesting in reading a romance stories with conventional HEAs better stop reading here, although it would be a shame if you did because you would be missing out on a fabulous book.
The stories in this book are edgy, exciting and full of a raw passion and delight in the male form in all its guises. The stories are mostly erotic and loosely arranged by theme, with the first couple of stories reflecting on a son’s relationship with his father; followed by a section of stories about a young gay teenager, Ryan, and how he copes with life at high school; followed by a section on the theme of young gay men living in New York and their relationships; and finally the last section is an eclectic mix of stories on a whole range of ideas including life, death, literature, madness, obsession, and love. The stories are also variable in their length and structure with some stories being little snippets of life and others being self-contained stories, although often without a happy or even wholly resolved ending. The narration shifts so that some stories are written in the first, second or third person point of view.
Personally I liked the two middle sections best. The character of Ryan is a mix of innocence and sly experience as we chart the development of him coming to terms with his sexuality. These are stories full of the longing and confusion of the teenage mind as he deals with bullies, experiments with girls and copes with lusting after his essentially straight friends. Mixed in with this are Ryan’s feelings about living in a small town and the hypocrisy he sees there.
The section based in New York contains stories which are mostly relationship based, which is probably why I liked them. Having said that, these are stories that are essentially written by a gay man for gay men and as such contain themes that some readers might find a little off putting. One story in particular, Sneaker Queen, was a story about a man who had a fetish for old sweaty sneakers gave me a feeling of fascinated disgust as I read descriptions of sneaker licking which made me want to reach for the bleach! Many of the other stories have a delicious nastiness to them as the men in the stories revel in the rank foetidness of themselves, their partners and their surroundings which I actually found quite refreshing. These are not clean men, fresh from the shower, but men in all their earthy goodness and I enjoyed reading about them even as I realised that this may not appeal to all readers.
Many of the stories in the anthology are not about action, but rather experience and how the characters view the world in which they live, as the characters make mistakes but also glory in their sexuality, unashamed and vibrant. The themes of innocence and experience are returned to again and again but these are not the conventional innocent boy being damaged and humiliated by the older man. Instead we see youth and innocence wanting to be debauched as much as the men who take their innocence and yet the confusion of the young gay man is still represented as the characters search for meaning in the sex, often coming to the realisation that there isn’t any. The majority of the stories deal with things that affect many gay men. Themes such as fidelity, homophobia, gay bashing, self-acceptance, prostitution, internet pornography, male beauty and a whole range of others are all represented in this set of stories.
I mentioned earlier that some stories were written in the second point of view. This is always a rather odd narrative viewpoint but one story, For hire – a Date with John, which was basically an account of a man who hires various prostitutes, worked particularly effectively in this viewpoint as I was placed in the position of the man paying for sex and was forced to see the encounters from his point of view. This meant that I experienced all the self-delusion in the sexual act along with the character as I became a participant rather than an observer. It was rather cleverly done.
Actually the whole anthology was cleverly done. The range of stories, narratives, themes and tone made this a very interesting set of stories. I never knew what I was getting myself into as I began each story; whether I was going to read something serious or something with a thick layer of black humour, or whose head I would be in, or what journey I would be taken on. What I did know was that I was in for a treat with each story as I became immersed in the anthology, and that each story would teach me something about the life of a gay man. I said earlier that this anthology was written for gay men, and I suppose in many ways it is, but it shouldn’t be read exclusively by gay men as there is a lot here to offer those, like me, who are willing to step out of their comfort zone. I will say again that these are not nice stories, in fact the many of them are downright nasty, but they are compelling, and beautiful, and sad, and upbeat, and funny, and disgusting, and horrifying, and breathtaking, and very, very well written. I highly recommend this anthology to those who want to take a break from m/m romance and read something just that bit different.