Whiskey Boys: And Other Meditations from the Abyss at the End of Youth is a lively collection of literary essays about bars, booze, and traveling the American West. The book follows the author from small-town Illinois to the West Coast after he abandons a legal career to pursue writing. Much of the narrative concerns growing up and what’s gained and lost with maturity, while considering the challenges of living as a writer in a culture that’s skeptical of the creative arts. Other threads include travel, wanderlust, the psychological effect of place, and mortality.
Phillip Hurst’s writing has appeared in publications such as The Missouri Review, River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative, Reed Magazine, Cimarron Review, and The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. His book of narrative nonfiction, The Land of Ale and Gloom: Discovering the Pacific Northwest, is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press. A novel, Regent’s of Paris, is forthcoming from Regal House Publishing. He lives in Oregon.
Praise for Whiskey Boys:
Whiskey Boys and Other Meditations from the Abyss at the End of Youth is a story about bartending and the meaning of life. In it, the author fails to pass the bar exam due to a night of debauchery that launches him on a career tending bar around the country. At first his book is a romp: a new city, a new lover, and a new bar in each chapter. Throughout the voice is winning as we might expect the voice of a charming bartender to be, full of stories and adventures as well as knowing and interesting asides about literature, philosophy, and the history of alcohol, but, as the book moves through time and the author faces the fact that he may be a “lifer” in the whiskey trade, the text darkens and he contemplates what this job that holds so little esteem in the eyes of others means. He is drawn to the Stoics, in particular Epictetus, who contended that life is brief, our ability to control it an illusion, and this one is all we have, a flicker of light between vast gulfs of nothingness. Our task is to make the most of it regardless of what society thinks. “Failure,” the author writes, “doesn’t lie in the job itself or even in how it is performed, but in how we conceive or fail to conceive of it.” Whiskey Boys is beautifully written, a joyous, heartbreaking, and in the end serious book.
—Steve Harvey, judge, 2021 Monadnock Essay Collection Contest, and author of Folly Beach
What happens when Jack London and Tom Cruise (circa Cocktail) enter a bar? Naturally, over a few drinks, they discuss everything from the Whiskey Rebellion to past loves. More importantly, they tell their stories to Phillip Hurst, who is not just a great bartender and listener, he is a charming raconteur himself who uses their stories—and those of others—to tell his own. With insight, humor, and pathos, Hurst takes the reader through his intoxicated and intoxicating story, this compelling portrait of the artist as a young imbiber/wanderer. Warning: you will want to read these seventeen essays straight, as though they were shots lined up on the bar waiting to be slammed. But whatever your pace and tolerance, Whiskey Boys, like a fine bourbon, should be savored.
—Andrew Malan Milward, author of Jayhawker: On History, Home, and Basketball