If art forces the participant to see reality from an unexpected point of view, or if art takes a generally accepted point of view and sharpens the edges with a light that is so bright that it is almost painful, then "The Hustler" is not just a work of art but a compelling tour de force of astounding power. "The Hustler" is not about pool players, but about how we look at life, how we make the simplest decisions. What is an acceptable performance? In our jobs? With our relationships? What compromises should we make? Must we make? How do we look at ourselves? Why and how do we lie to ourselves?
"The Hustler" is a simple book, well crafted, elegantly written, with memorable characters and compelling situations. This is art at it's best. No pretensions, just a craftsman's use of time honored techniques that reinforce the message without intruding.
Tevis presents life's dilemmas plainly, tells us what is unacceptable, makes us self-satisfied, then like all great artists, presents a little more complex dilemma, then asks us to make the choice again. Except it's not so easy this time...
Reading "The Hustler" should be a rite of passage for any person that feels every decision we make, or don't make, is important. A must read.
On a more personal level, I met Walter Tevis in a room called Hanger's in Pittsburgh in the early 60's. I was about 15, an unusual combination of voracious reader and aspiring 9 ball player. He told me I had a talent, that he loved the game, that he was addicted to it and its characters. He also told me he was a writer. I didn't know who he was at the time and we didn't do anything more than pass a pleasant 10 or 20 minutes. I saw the movie later, loved it, was a little too young and callow to appreciate it as much as I should have. The book has been out of print and difficult to find; I'm embarrassed to say I just read it yesterday for the first time. Let me just say it not only asks questions, but the right questions. I know, I've been trying to answer them for 35 years. Walter wherever you are, (and I believe you died a few years back), thank you.
PS: Walter played pool and wasn't bad, what we'd call a good local player.
PPS: The Minnesota Fats, (real name: Rudolph Wanderone)you all saw on TV wasn't the real Fats. The real Fats wasn't a jerk and a 2 bit hustler with a good agent. But that's another story.