The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Apt. 3w

Overview

Nine Salingeresque stories about New Yorkers and their marvelous eccentricities.
This brilliantly inventive first collection captures the disparate lives of the residents of Manhattan's West 89th Street. Five stories are set in one apartment building, where young Davie Birnbaum watches his neighbors' lives unfold. The title story reworks F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," whose hero is born as an old man and ages in reverse; Brownstein's Button lives on...

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Overview

Nine Salingeresque stories about New Yorkers and their marvelous eccentricities.
This brilliantly inventive first collection captures the disparate lives of the residents of Manhattan's West 89th Street. Five stories are set in one apartment building, where young Davie Birnbaum watches his neighbors' lives unfold. The title story reworks F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," whose hero is born as an old man and ages in reverse; Brownstein's Button lives on the third floor, fading away toward infancy. In apartment 7E, a lawyer named Zauberman reenacts the life of Hawthorne's Wakefield: he abandons his family so that he can spy on them. Meanwhile, the proctologist in the penthouse plays Icarus and Daedalus with his misfit son. These are tales of literary voyeurism, as the narrators look in on other people's everyday victories and misfortunes—marriages, car accidents, love affairs, and adoptions—and make sense of what they see by thinking about the stories they know best. Winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award; Finalist for the Book-of-the-Month Club First Fiction Award; Chosen as a 2002 Book to Remember by the New York Public Library.

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Editorial Reviews

Dale Peck
“[M]ysterious, resonant, haunting; their echoes will stay with you long after you've finished his lovely, lovely book.”
Martha McPhee
“[A] master storyteller...There is no doubt, this collection introduces a great talent.”
Dan Chaon
“[A] wonderfully unsettling, feverish collection of short stories—funny and haunting and unlike anything else out there.”
Howard Norman
“Uncanny, funny as hell, inventive on every page, Gabriel Brownstein displays sheer literary imagination and writes with impressive vividness.”
Tama Janowitz
“Brownstein's is a fresh and jaunty voice, with a jazz snap all his own.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review
“A breathing monument to childhood, to Manhattan, and in its good-natured way, to literature itself.”
Salon
“Completely fresh...truly moving.”
Chicago Tribune
“Fantastically imagined...reverberates with subtle emotional tension.”
Dale Peck
Mysterious, resonant, haunting; their echoes will stay with you long after you've finished his lovely, lovely book.
Howard Norman
Uncanny, funny as hell, inventive on every page, Gabriel Brownstein displays sheer literary imagination and writes with impressive vividness.
Dan Chaon
This is a wonderfully unsettling, feverish collection of short stories—funny and haunting and unlike anything else out there.
Tama Janowitz
Brownstein's is a fresh and jaunty voice, with a jazz snap all his own.
Martha McPhee
There is no doubt, this collection introduces a great talent.
Publishers Weekly
The inhabitants of an apartment building on the Upper West Side of New York City are the actors in five deft reenactments of classic literary works in this debut collection; the other four stories explore the fringes of comfortable late-20th-century life in and around the city. On West 89th St. in the 1970s and '80s, young Davie Birnbaum ("I was a spooky kid in my cousin's hand-me-down corduroys.... My hair was cut in a puffy bell") takes stock of his neighbors' eccentricities. There is Solly Schlacter, unfortunate young son of a disbarred proctologist, who plummets to his death on Icarus wings from the roof of the building ("Musee des Beaux Arts," indebted to W.H. Auden's poem of the same title). There is Benjamin Button, of the title story, a shady-looking young man who is revealed to have been born as a withered ancient, like the protagonist of Fitzgerald's story, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." There is the mysterious Wakefield, who fakes his death and spies on his wife and children across the street ("Wakefield, 7E"). And there is Kevin MacMichaelman, onetime ringleader of Davie's band of friends and, as an adult, the demented docent of an autobiographical museum he has created out of his parents' apartment ("A Penal Colony of His Own, 11E"). Set slightly farther afield, in Cold Spring Harbor, is "Bachelor Party," in which the narrator's devoutly Jewish older brother tells of his bizarre affair with the daughter of an ex-Nazi. Brownstein's distinctively skeptical, faintly elegiac voice and sense of place link all the stories, overriding the anxiety of influence to produce marvelously smooth hybrid tales that prompt readers to think twice about the intersection of life and fiction. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal

Set mostly on the Upper West Side of New York City in the 1970s, Brownstein's 2002 debut collection ranges from the unusual to the bizarre, with nine linked accounts of Davie Birnbaum's friends and neighbors. The title story, reworked from F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1922 version, tells of Benjamin Button, a young man living his life backwards, being born old and then gradually growing younger. Despite this odd premise, the characters' motivations and actions seem perfectly believable. With echoes of Icarus, there is the tale of the frightening proctologist who straps wings on his son and pushes him off the roof. Davie relates in "Wakefield, 7E," the story of Mr. Wakefield, who fakes his own death, then moves across the street and spends his time spying on his wife and children. Perhaps the most poignant tale is that of Davie's friend and childhood ringleader Kevin McMichaelman, who turned mad at 17. Several years later and feeling guilty over not having been more supportive toward Kevin, Davie visits him, now a docent in the family home he has converted into a weird museum. The strange blend of humor, place, and memory in these works is powerful and entertaining. Scott Brick's reading makes even the most eccentric character credible. Recommended for large public libraries. [Fitzgerald's story was rereleased in paper in 2007, and Brad Pitt and other biggies are slated for the film version, due out later this year. Also available as downloadable audio.-Ed.]
—Nancy R. Ives

Library Journal
Brownstein's first collection offers a voyeuristic glimpse into the lives of the tenants of a West 89th Street apartment building in New York City. Incorporating elements of works by Auden, Kafka, Hawthorne, Singer, and Fitzgerald (the title story, in fact, is a reworking of a Fitzgerald tale of the same name), Brownstein combines humor, absurdity, and elegy to create linked stories that are strong enough to stand on their own. Speaking retrospectively, in some cases even beyond death, his narrators are brilliantly observant. In the voice of Davey Birnbaum, Brownstein demonstrates a talent for capturing innocence comparable to that of Salinger or Capote. Davey's accounts of his mid-1970s childhood and of friends and neighbors falling into madness and obscurity are made vivid by precise details and descriptions. Sympathetic and perceptive, unpretentious yet engaging, these stories are infused with a genuine sense of place; Brownstein's New York is a home for memories, a refuge for eccentrics. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/02.] Julia LoFaso, formerly with "Library Journal"
Kirkus Reviews
An elegant if somewhat mannered collection of nine stories, mostly set within the confines of a single apartment building on Manhattan's Upper West Side. West 89th Street between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue is one of those pleasant New York residential blocks made all the more pleasant by being off the beaten track of tourists and day-trippers. Built as an exclusive enclave for the well-to-do, however, the Upper West Side had become somewhat down at the heels and vaguely disreputable during the period (the 1970s and '80s) of most of these tales. "Musée des Beaux Arts," for example, offer a resident's recollections of a demented proctologist who lived upstairs and lost his son in a freak accident (the boy made a pair of wings and, from the rooftop, tried to imitate Icarus). "Bachelor Party" describes the perverse love affair that a Jewish graduate student at Columbia carries on with the daughter of his faculty adviser (an erstwhile Nazi). In "Wakefield, 7e," several schoolboys become obsessed with a ghostlike tenant who moves in across the hall from one of them, while the narrator of "The Inventor of Love" is a melancholy account of two gay men who adopt a boy from a troubled family but find themselves unable to cope with the pressures of parenthood. The title story is by far the longest and strangest: Borrowing from Fitzgerald's story of a boy who was born old and grew younger, it creates a history of the strange young man in the apartment upstairs who entered the world in 1912 when he sprang from his mother's womb as an elderly, bearded Jew and dashed his assimilationist father's hopes of passing himself off as a Christian. A careful portrait of a very small world: likely toappeal to New Yorkers and New York-ophiles but not-so-likely to travel well.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393324785
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 226
  • Sales rank: 980,855
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Gabriel Brownsteinwon the PEN/ Hemingway Award for his collection The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Apt. 3W. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Table of Contents

Musee Des Beaux Arts 15
Bachelor Party 20
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 3W 45
Safety 101
Wakefield, 7E 120
The Inventory of Love 134
A Penal Colony All His Own, 11E 156
The Speedboat 175
The Dead Fiddler, 5E 198
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