The Noble Hustle by Colson Whitehead
Reviewed by Andrew H.
Colson Whitehead’s latest, The Noble Hustle, is the darkly humorous tale of him joining the World Series of Poker (WSOP) after a lifetime of playing $5 buy in games with friends. The book opens with the definition of anhedonia, which is an inability to feel pleasure. Whitehead peppers the tale with anecdotes about the customs of his fictional home country, the Republic of Anhedonia. I’m sure that other anhedonians will find some small pleasure in The Noble Hustle, recognizing Whitehead’s self-deprecating humor as a familiarity in their own lives.
The Noble Hustle is funny, but the humor is couched in Whitehead’s own depression and his lack of poker skills when it comes to tournament style play. It’s a dry, dark humor, but it is pitch perfect. The WSOP is as big a tournament one can enter, so the cards are stacked against him. Despite this, Whitehead powers through by reading all he can about poker from the greats, practicing in small tournaments until the big one.
The divorce which opens the book sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Whitehead is learning to play poker as he juggles his own self-doubt and taking care of his kid on certain days of the week. In one particularly funny scene, Whitehead notes that the play dates had dried up with his kid once the other parents found out he was driving to Atlantic City every other day to practice.
Poker fans will love this book; it’s a great rundown of all the subcultures that are involved in tournament play from the old timers to the internet trained robotic kids. Non-poker fans will love it for the same reasons. Whitehead is not himself a huge poker person and the unfolding of his story is a joy to read. It’s hilarious, it’s insightful, and it’s written with beautiful prose. I highly recommend The Noble Hustle to anyone with even the slightest interest in poker.
Colson Whitehead will be here TONIGHT, 5/28 at 7PM speaking and signing copies of The Noble Hustle. Books are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.