When one considers the many types of media vying for the public's attention, it's no wonder that book enthusiasts worry about the future of reading. Within that group is a smaller contingent that frets over the prospects of a readership for canonical works of literature. In Celebrity Chekhov, New Yorker editor Greenman (e.g., Please Step Back) swaps out the characters in Anton Chekhov's short fiction for modern celebrities. While there is a certain charm in having Paris Hilton speak as though she had a 19th-century Russian aristocrat stuck in her throat, the novelty wears thin in fairly short order. But as an idea, it seems extensible, even franchisable. One shouldn't be surprised to see this volume followed by reworkings of Austen, Hemingway, and other authors in a way that makes us rethink our reservations about the demise of print culture. VERDICT Readable in an afternoon, this book might appeal to readers who enjoy similar satiric knockoffs, like Steve Hockensmith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Like many books that are good for a laugh, Celebrity Chekhov is worth reading once.—Chris Pusateri, Jefferson Cty. P.L., Lakewood, CO
The stories of Anton Chekhov are hijacked by American celebrities in New Yorker editor Greenman's latest (What He's Poised to Do, 2010, etc.).
The author makes a modest proposal in this thinly conceptualized literary mash-up. "Chekhov drew his characters from all levels of Russian society in his time: peasants, aristocrats, intense young clerks, disappointed wives," he writes. "Today, in America, we have a simple way of identifying these flawed specimens of humanity ruled by ego and insecurity. They are called 'celebrities.' " To illustrate his point, Greenman proceeds to "adapt and celebritize" (his phrase) some of the Russian author's short stories by poisoning them with celebrities. "A Transgression" puts David Letterman at the mercy of his blackmailer before a run-in with Steve Martin pulls his fat out of the fire. "Bad Weather" features Tiger Woods: "And Tiger Woods, holding his knee as though it were aching, glanced stealthily at his wife and mother-in-law to see the effect of his lie, or as he called it, diplomacy." Among other targets: Paris Hilton, the Kardashian sisters, Sarah Palin and Lindsay Lohan, appearing in "A Classical Student," which ends with a garish sexual encounter between the starlet and Jesse James. More disturbing is the jarring disconnect between Chekhov's language, which survives partially intact, and the penetrative insertions of celebrities who are referred to by their full names ("My dear Brad Pitt! What fate has brought you?" etc.). There are a few moments of keen insight—Eminem is used to good effect in the Poe-esque "Hush," while comedian Artie Lange haunts "In the Graveyard." But the whole thing still reads like a McSweeney's dispatch that got out of hand.
A derivative, exploitative literary stunt.