Lethe Press, $2.25, ISBN 978-1-59021-062-8
Contemporary Erotica, 2009
I almost overlooked this month’s TBR Review Challenge mind you, because Chinese New Year falls next week and it’s a mad rush around here trying to get things in order for the upcoming holidays. Plus, I’m also stuck in a reading slump that shows no signs of ending, so it’s actually a lucky coincidence that the theme of this month coincides with the book I just happened to finish. Sean Meriweather’s The Silent Hustler came out ages ago and it’s a collection of very short, borderline flash fiction-style stories. Yes, it’d do.
Who is this fellow anyway? According to author Jameson Currier, who wrote in the introduction Sean’s Territory:
One’s first impression of Sean Meriwether is his boyish attractiveness—the fair complexion, dark hair, and searing blue eyes with a Harry Potter sparkle, and like that boy-wizard, Sean has an intelligence and inner complexity that is darkly imaginative, crafting fiction that can be disturbingly graphic and at the same time breathlessly innocent.
I’m not going to lie: I hit the image search engines right away to gaze at this paragon of beauty, only to be… well, I’m not saying the images I found are that of a pug-ugly fellow, but those images suggest that I won’t be rushing to see Mr Meriweather’s shirtless selfies on his Instagram or something.
Mr Currier adds:
To date, however, Sean’s fame and notoriety has been derived from two literary Web sites he launched at the turn of the new Millennium – Outsider Ink and Velvet Mafia. As editor and webmaster, Sean gave many writers their first exposure, particularly in Outsider Ink, an alternative e-zine he founded to publish works that “defied categorization,” and of the latter, Velvet Mafia, Sean created an outlet for edgy, thought-provoking, and often experimental gay erotica that both reinvigorated and revolutionized the genre. In his own stories for these sites and the anthologies they spawned, Sean deftly blended a tension between his characters’ reality and fantasies, creating as much sexiness to the written word as he did to his characters’ explorations of sex.
That’s a good indication of the nature of the stories found here. While The Silent Hustler is marketed as edgy erotica, the stories present in its pages are more literary and cerebral than down and dirty. This is not something to read for quick jollies – it’s the kind of smut people read in order to feel smarter. Actually, I personally won’t classify this thing as erotica, as some of the stories are more literary fiction than sexy smut. Take note of this before you read this thing, and adjust your expectations accordingly.
Things I Can’t Tell My Father is a beautifully written monologue about a son’s tumultuous, love-hate relationship with his father. It impresses me how the author can cut deep into the heart and slice it into smaller pieces using concise, short sentences that nonetheless paint a vivid picture of childhood worship that becomes increasingly tainted by perceptions of pesky reality that one gains throughout adulthood. I can definitely relate to the bittersweet feels emanating from every word here, and it’s a great way to kick off the collection.
Ice Water continues the daddy issues showcase. A young boy has a last father-son outing before his father heads off to another state for a new job, and there are many feels to be had here. The older man is trying to express his regrets about his failed marriage and regrets to a boy who still can’t fully understand what he is saying, and that has to cut deep into the feels. There are no erotic elements in this one.
Next, under the section I, Frankenstein, Alone in the Country, which gives me glimpses into the life of a teenager who is a magnet for trouble and a taste for the worst kind of boys ever – unattainable ones that physically and emotionally abuse him. The chapters are well written, gracefully so at many places, but this is a standard miserable gay angst tale that can be found in any coming-of-age literary fiction in the gay fiction aisle.
Boys in the City is an odd section, as it starts off as vignettes about pretty men who have no problems getting laid but god help them when it comes to finding meaningful relationships, because they are all big on letting daddy issues and what not sabotage their happiness. Then, the whole thing changes abruptly into a series of quickies, and that’s when the very short length of these stories becomes an issue. Let’s just say that it’s hard to find short, stubby things sexy, and this includes short stories that describe the sexy stuff in one or two sentences before moving on.
The final section, Sax and Violins, contains the most sex-centric stories, but as I’ve mentioned, the sex here is more literary and arty-farty, than down and dirty. I like the phraseology and wordsmith employed by the author, but I don’t find these stories erotic, personally, because the whole thing is like having a literature professor reworking popular olden-day stories found on the Nifty Archive into one-handed reads for the literati.
All in all, The Silent Hustler is a mixed bag. I love how the stories were written, but the erotica aspect is a miss for me. If anything, I wish the author had chosen to write more in the vein of the first two stories – more introspection and feels, fewer airy-fairy literary attempts to pass off a quickie in a washroom into some eye-rolling, life-changing, feels-destroying tragedy of the ages.