"In Paul Lyons' tight, measured first novel, the protagonist Andy Hessel, plays pool, but as a middle-class white kid, he's an odd fixture among the street-smart black players...Paul Lyons has written an exceptional first novel, sparked by dry humor and driven by a need to find high art among the lowly."--The News and Observer, Raleigh, NC.
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This first novel, a series of sketches about growing up as a pool addict on N.Y.C.'s Upper West Side, is full of convincing lingo and colorful poolhall characters - but until the end, it slights the narrator's family situation in favor of awkward flash-forwards to the present. At 15, Andy Hessel plays pool with his Dad and gets hooked. With the help of his basketball-playing brother George, he conceals his addiction from his parents and virtually lives at Guys and Dolls, the local poolhall, learning the game from players like Table Legs, Cigar, Mousey the Thief, Buddha ("All I want is one game of nine-ball with God"), and Scorpio (his mentor). Meanwhile, the book is full of atmosphere and lore, sometimes to the exclusion of context or cumulative effect: Scorpio arranges a blind date for Andy; Scorpio gets deep-sixed by hoods; Andy's parents worry about his future; Andy dreams of being the Definitive Busboy; Andy foolishly challenges Gypsy to a match and nearly gets knifed. Finally, Andy's Dad shows up at the poolhall and stakes his son to a series of big-money games with Legs. After the match, powerfully rendered, father and son have a reconciliation of sorts. The overall effect is diluted, however, when the author cuts from that scene to the present day. The Guys and Dolls has become an Iranian rug shop, and Andy has a problematic relationship with his lover Hilary - problematic because he has never told her of his youthful addiction. Lyons is only partially successful at dovetailing past and present, but, all in all, this is a quirky, worthwhile look into an oddball world of lowlife hustlers and dignified losers, all devoted in their way to the game. (Kirkus Reviews)