An 8 Ball Odyssey
Author: Heather Byer
When Heather Byer moved to New York from the Midwest in the early
1990s, she was like thousands of newcomers before her: wholesome, overeducated,
ready to jump head-first into the ruthless, exciting world of literature or film.
She eventually built a successful career as a movie executive, only to realize
that something was missing from her life. She was stuckstuck in a lifestyle
of fancy lunches and high-powered temper tantrums, of working too hard for too
little personal fulfillment.
But instead of turning to therapy or yoga to
relieve her angst, Heather found herself drawn to the dark and seductive world
In Sweet, Byer recounts her first fumbling attempts to learn a
game that beckoned to her for years. She describes the hypnotic pull that surrounds
the sport of pool: the netherworld of bars that serve as dens for substance abuse;
the troubled players who lose themselves in the game; the constant quest for the
win. As her game improves, she finds her persona changing, becoming less verbal
and analytical and more intuitive and physical as she meets a series of people
who leave lasting impressionsa lanky, country-boy pool instructor; a good-hearted
lawyer with a drinking problem; a strange South American bank-shot specialist;
a hot-tempered woman with a nose-ring and an endless supply of sex appeal; mentors
and hustlers; friends and lovers. As she moves through this beguiling, sometimes
treacherous subculture, Byer vividly describes her progress and mishaps on the
tables. Ultimately, the humiliating losses and exhilarating winsboth in
the pool bars and her personal lifealter how she thinks of the game and
Sweet is both an unexpected memoir and a fascinating glimpse into
a world few people know and even fewer understand.
FROM THE CRITICS
Trussoni - The New York Times
One part memoir, one part suspenseful sports
writing, Sweet follows Byers quest to master a difficult and misunderstood
game. As she negotiates her way among pool sharks and through league matches and
barroom romances, she offers a sharp, savvy perspective on desire, ambition and
the galling disadvantage of being a woman determined to play a mans game.
Byer was a 30-year-old vice-president at
a feature film company in New York City when she got the career blues. She didn't
leave her job, but admits that the glamour had worn thin, replaced by a feeling
of emptiness. In this neatly told but overlong memoir, she chronicles her quest
for meaning and complexity, which she finds in a foreign subculture: the pool
room. The initial attraction is a chance to find a private, elegant world for
herself. A competitive Ivy League achiever, Byer is drawn to the players' quest
for perfection. Pool, which requires "dexterity, physical grace and unwavering
focus," is a demanding master. But it's also a dark world of has-beens, addictions,
obsessions and self-invention, propelled by intoxicating highs and humiliating
lows. Byer takes readers inside the pool scene: the players, lessons, teams, rankings
and history of this extraordinary sport. She even shares her brief affairs with
other players. But while the pool world is a fascinating, even hypnotic one, the
repetitive description of her journey is not. This love letter to the game is
strictly for pool fans, who will delight in the inside take as well as the validation.
(Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
from her work with bad-mannered movie execs, our spunky heroine becomes a player
herself-a pool player. Five years leaning over the green felt in plebeian poolrooms
empowered her mightily. Not long out of the hinterlands, Byer impulsively dropped
into a dim NYC pool bar called Chelsea Billiards and found a new life. Quickly
hooked, she took lessons in the fine points of an ancient game played on a field
seven feet long and half as wide. In addition to the rules of pool and the story
of billiards (which she passes on succinctly to the reader), she learned much
about a new breed of people. Progressing nicely, she joined a competitive amateur
team. She invested in her own cue stick ($100) and case ($25); she grew passionate
about the proper break of a rackful of balls. Pungent character sketches and lucid
accounts of various games constitute Byer's narrative meat, seasoned with a bit
of romance and the customary girl-pal. She had entanglements and breakups with
pool guys while she changed jobs and apartments. She had a minor adventure in
a Mexican poolroom, found a new team based in another New York venue and recovered
from a slump. It was all about the manners and mores of obsessive players, about
the teasing and fellowship of comrades at the tables and about her rapport with
her cue stick. "There's an empowering women's magazine article in there somewhere,
I have no doubt," she thought after a coworker complimented her on a new
glow of confidence. Lightly entertaining and occasionally illuminating.
PEOPLE ARE SAYING
Sweet is a cool, sexy book, as thrilling and precisely complex
as a bank shot that stops the cue ball in perfect position behind the eight ball.
Heather Byer can certainly play, but much more important for our purposes, the
lady can write. (James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street)
In her fascinating memoir, Heather Byer, a former New York film exec
and 'nice girl from Ohio,' takes us inside pool halls and the odd sharks who inhabit
them. They teach, tease, and challenge her and the reader in this highly entertaining
and inspiring journey of one woman's determination to make a passing interest
a passion. (Elisabeth Robinson, author of The True and Outstanding Adventures
of the Hunt Sisters)
- Elisabeth Robinson
Byer has written for The New Yorker and The Baltimore Sun, among other publications.
She spent ten years working in the publishing and film industries. Born and raised
in Columbus, Ohio, Byer lives in Brooklyn. She has been playing pool since 1999.