- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleWhen Paul Griner's debut collection of short stories, Follow Me (currently out of print), was published in 1996, some critics observed that, although talented, he was a "writer who may still be finding his way." The title story, a sexy and twisted peephole into the life of a New York City performance artist, caught the eye of the film producer Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black, Wild Wild West), who quickly snapped up the rights. Not bad for a writer who hasn't found his way. Now, with the publication of his first novel, Collectors, there can be no doubt that Paul Griner has arrived. But don't bet on strolling into this book as if it were The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing. Although it is an ostensibly breezy 174-page love story following the trials and tribulations of a sexy young woman, there's a lot to be discovered below the surface. Dark, mysterious, complex, and subtle, Collectors is the kind of novel that keeps writing itself on your brain long after the last page has been turned.
Like many serious contemporary fiction writers, Griner teaches the craft of writing. Though currently living in Kentucky, where he is an assistant professor of English at the University of Louisville, he's a born-and-bred Bostonian (where Collectors is set). In addition to acquiring multiple graduate degrees, Griner has also been a Fulbright Scholar in Portugal, where he translated contemporary Portuguese short stories into English. When not slaving away in academia, he has taken odd jobs as a carpenter, a painter, a tour guide, and a truck driver. "Almost all of my jobs after college were designed to give me enough time to write," Griner says, "either while doing them or through making money, which would then give me time off. Usually it worked, though occasionally it backfired. I injured my back on one job, working on a crew building a post-and-beam house in the middle of the country. Since I was injured in the first half hour and no one wanted to lose a day working, I spent the day lying on a piece of plywood, until the crew put me in the back of the truck and drove me home at the end of the day."
The protagonist of Collectors is Jean Dubonnet, an advertising-agency art director who has a keen ability to produce dangerously exclusive, albeit extremely successful, concepts. (For example: "Not for everybody...probably not even for you.") An awkward, Ally McBeal-ish type with an edgy sense of intelligence, Jean is single and rather friendless. On weekends she enjoys wandering through the flea markets down near the shore, trying not to look like the collector of antique pens -- Cloisonnés, Watermans, Mont Blancs -- that she is. "That was the cardinal rule of the market, not to display your interest, otherwise you spooked your prey."
"While I don't collect," Griner says, "I've always enjoyed the markets. I didn't do any research on the psychology of collecting, though I've been struck by recent readings about collectors, by how much they are motivated by things from their past." Jean's past is full of therapy, hospitalization, and random outbursts. As a child, she was very close with her cousin Claudia. But then Jean turned Claudia's home into a giant open-pit barbecue, and the girls were forbidden to see each other again.
At Claudia's wedding, the two are reunited for the first time in many years. It's there that Jean meets Steven Cain, a mysterious friend of Claudia's, who warms to Jean and offers to take her out for a sail on his boat. The sailing trip goes off without a hitch -- a little sun, lunch, wine, and gratuitous sex in the v-berth. But as Jean is stepping into her car to leave, Steven slams the door on her hand, crushing her fingers. An accident? Perhaps, but what kind of man would attend to his lover by hailing a cab and sending her off to the hospital alone? Afterward, Jean doesn't hear from Steven for a week, and yet she can't stop thinking about him. The next weekend at the flea market, exploring cigar boxes for underpriced pens, she bumps into Steven. It seems he's also a collector, a collector of various kinds of binoculars. Bobbing from table to table, Steven makes the ominous observation, "Death is always the draw. Collectors like nothing better." Against her better judgment, Jean finds herself gearing up for another cruise. But this time the seas are high. A squall is moving in. The question is, should she be afraid of Steven, knowing that his ex-wife and former fiancée disappeared at sea?
"I would like readers to like Jean," Griner says. "Though intelligent, and strong at work, she's also fragile. I see her as a mixture of hopeful and self-destructive urges." While the ending leaves many open-ended questions à la Salinger's story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish", namely whether Jean lives or dies, Collectors asks readers: Are you always complicit in the outcome of your actions, or are you perhaps a pawn in the game of life? "I hope my book is entertaining on many levels," Griner says. "But most of all, I hope that when someone finishes reading it, he or she hasn't finished with the book. By that I mean I hope that readers are still debating many things. That's what I think the best fiction does."