This is the novel that the Paul Newman/George C Scott/Jackie Gleason movie from 1961, and the same author of the sequel, The Color of Money starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. I picked this up in part because it was available from my library as an audiobook, but also because two other Walter Tevis novels, which I also plan to read soon, Mockingbird and The Queen’s Gambit, the second of which my wife got from the library completely out of the blue, and the first being on several sci fi lists I was looking at. Seemed an odd coincidence.
Anyway, this novel is a kind of 1950s/1960s new American male grit, leftover noir-lite (not exactly noir, as Eddie Felsen never really hits that far down) that is well written, fast-paced, and has the air of and difference from a sports novel.
In the novel Fast Eddie Felsen comes barreling into Chicago with a reputation for being a great pool player. It turns out he is for sure, but when he shows up and challenges Minnesota Fats to a game he loses a heartbreaker (and all his cash) in a series of games he was poised to win. After falling in love (maybe?) and getting his thumbs broken by hustlers he hustled, he becomes the protege of another gambler who teaches him how to settle those nerves and play the player more than playing the game. There’s no surprises in this novel, especially if you’ve seen the movie, because they’re exactly the same, but it’s solid, entertaining, and holds up.