To Fast Eddie Felsen, a young pool hustler, there was only one thing that mattered: to make the big time and the big money in the world of pool by beating the best in the country.
Hustling suckers in small towns for good stake money was practice for his goal, and when he felt ready he went to Bennington's pool hall in Chicago to find Minnesota Fats. Eddie and Fats pit nerve against skill in a fantastic match over an unbroken 36 hours. Eddie's final painful loss teaches him that nerve alone isn't enough - guts, stamina, and character make the difference between winners and losers.
It takes an interlude with Sarah, an alcoholic and a born loser, to bring the lesson home, and the shrewd advice and backing of Bert, a professional gambler, to put it into practice. Bert knows talent without character is nothing and stakes Eddie to a climactic all-or-nothing rematch. When it is over, Eddie knows a great deal more about big-time pool, about money, and about himself. In beating Fats he became the best in the country.
©2014 Walter Tevis (P)2016 Tantor
Though this "format" of brash youngster going against the King/establishment has become a bit cliche in structure (see all Tom Cruise movies where he plays same character repeatedly) I still enjoyed this early Tevis. It is a classic and though it is rather linear and stripped down it works. There are a few surprises still. Tevis knew what he was doing and gets better in next novels. There are hints of more mythic elements in this with the lame girl and limping janitor hinting at some wasteland motif, but he doesn't dwell on or develop this until his more poetically and symbolically written Man Who Fell to Earth and Mockingbird. And the film of this, classic as it is and well done, changes some things, one of which I can understand whether i liked it or not, and the other which I think detracts from one of his main themes at the end. You don't need to know pool to enjoy it and I was unfamiliar with a few items, but it is still well written and drew me to research a couple things. There are a few great videos on youtube with Willie Mosconi who I believe was a consultant on the film, and Minnesota Fats who was not real, but claim-jumped and moniker taken by New York Fats I believe. In either case good novel.
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