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There's Something I Want You to Do
     

There's Something I Want You to Do

by Charles Baxter
 

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From one of the great masters of the contemporary short story, here is an astonishing collection that showcases Charles Baxter’s unique ability to unveil the remarkable in the seemingly inconsequential moments of an eerie yet familiar life.
 
Penetrating and prophetic, the ten inter-related stories in There’s Something I Want You to Do <

Overview

From one of the great masters of the contemporary short story, here is an astonishing collection that showcases Charles Baxter’s unique ability to unveil the remarkable in the seemingly inconsequential moments of an eerie yet familiar life.
 
Penetrating and prophetic, the ten inter-related stories in There’s Something I Want You to Do are held together by a surreally intricate web of cause and effect—one that slowly ensnares both fictional bystanders and enraptured readers. Benny, an architect and hopeless romantic, is robbed on his daily walk along the Mississippi River, and the blow of a baseball bat to the back of his knee feels like a strike from God. A drug dealer named Black Bird reads Othello while waiting for customers in a bar. Elijah, a pediatrician and the father of two, is visited nightly by visions of Alfred Hitchcock. Meanwhile, a dog won’t stop barking, a passenger on a transatlantic flight reads aloud from the book of Psalms during turbulence, and a scream carries itself through the early-morning Minneapolis air.
 
As the collection progresses, we delve more deeply into the private lives of these characters, exploring their fears, fantasies, and obsessions. They appear and reappear, performing praiseworthy and loathsome acts in equal measure in response to the request—or demand—lodged in each story’s center. The result is a portrait of human nature as seen from the tightrope that spans the distance between dreams and waking life—a portrait that could have arisen only from Baxter’s singular vision. Readers will be stunned by his uncanny understanding of human attraction and left to puzzle over the meaning of virtue and the unpredictable and mysterious ways in which we behave.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Michelle Huneven
…[a] winning and ingenious new story collection…[Baxter's] prose is lively, well modulated and so well crafted you can't slide a knife between the words. He can match syntax to subject…and spiral languorously into psyches…
Publishers Weekly
★ 11/17/2014
Five stories named for virtues and five for vices make up this collection from a master craftsman. Set mostly in Minneapolis, Baxter’s (Gryphon) interlinked narratives feature ordinary people extending themselves beyond the ordinary for those they love, or used to love, or cannot love. In “Bravery,” a pediatrician and his new wife visit Prague, where a madwoman’s ranting appears to predict their future. In “Chastity,” a lonely architect stops a woman from jumping off a bridge; she turns out to be a stand-up comedian whose dark humor and elusive emotions enthrall him. “Loyalty” focuses on a mechanic as he takes his destitute first wife back into his home; years before, she’d abandoned her family, and now she blogs about the experience. “Sloth” shows the pediatrician from “Bravery” in middle age, talking suspense with the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock, who haunts Minneapolis. Baxter’s characters muddle through small but pivotal moments, not so much confrontations as crossroads between love and destruction, desire and death: a translator dreams of the poet whose work defies translation, a gay businessman searches the Minneapolis underworld for his lost lover, and a dying woman looks forward to the resurrection like others look forward to weekend football. The prose resonates with distinctive turns of phrase that capture human ambiguity and uncertainty: trouble waits patiently at home, irony is the new chastity, and a dying man lives in the house that pain designed for him. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
Michelle Huneven, New York Times Book Review
“The book follows a group of Minneapolis citizens, including a pediatrician, a young drug addict, a translator and a car mechanic—all of whom, like the rest of us, crave love and meaning and moral goodness while confined by the shortcomings and idiosyncrasies of their own ­personalities. These characters slip in and out of one another’s stories, and while some never meet, they eventually ­constitute, if not exactly a community, a shimmering web of interconnectedness.”

Laura Farmer, The Cedar Rapids Gazette
“... Baxter’s writing is sharper than ever as he explores heartbreaking storylines ranging from a happily married man taking in his now handicapped ex-wife to an overworked pediatrician who sees visions of the dead on his evening walks along the Mississippi.”

Kevin Grauke, Philadelphia Inquirer
“ Few writers, if any, are as capable of pursuing such an inevitable truth as this—and in so graceful, subdued, and artful a manner—as Charles Baxter.”

Den of Geek, “The Must Read Fiction of 2015”
“ Baxter is a master at the top of his game, an artist who’s perfected his technique. There’s Something I Want You To Do is an explosive addition to his already stellar resume.”

O Magazine
“In his latest work of short fiction, a master of the form contemplates the abhorrent and admirable choices we make and what finally leads a person to choose the high road.” 

Antoinette Kuritz, Good Morning San Diego/Kusi TV
“The nice thing is there’s a thread that connects all the stories, and yet they each stand on their own with individual characters. And it’s very well written….It’s a great book to read with your book club, and it’s a great book just to have on your nightstand just to read stories at night.”
 
Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
"Baxter’s writerly pleasure in words is used in the service of illuminating characters and places, and giving moral weight to the stories.”

Recommendations from Mrs. Dalloway, San Francisco Chronicle

“On magnificent display here is the great storyteller’s unique ability to unveil the remarkable in the seemingly inconsequential moments of an eerie yet familiar life.”

Lorrie Moore, author of
Bark
“Charles Baxter’s stories proceed with steady grace, nimble humor, quiet authority, and thrilling ingeniousness. In this his latest collection, all is on display—as are his honoring of the mysteries of love and his dramatic explorations of American manners, mores, family, solitude, and art. He is a great writer.”

Julie Orringer, author of How to Breathe Under Water
“Charles Baxter is nothing short of a national literary treasure. To read these stories—hilarious, tragic, surprising, and indelibly human—is to receive revelation at the hands of a master. Who but this writer has such intimate knowledge of our most shameful depths, and who else can illuminate them with such stunning aptness of word and thought? These ten linked stories, fraught with loneliness, ultimately reveal the unbreakable ties between us all.”

Jamie Quatro, author of I Want to Show You More
“With his latest collection, Charles Baxter has given us something altogether new in contemporary fiction: a series of moral tales that contain zero moralizing. At the center of each of these stories is a pivotal request—something I want you to do—and the ensuing narratives unfold with the nuanced complexity we’ve come to expect from Baxter, with a theological acumen few contemporary writers possess. Here is a cast of characters unparalleled since Sherwood Anderson’s Book of Grotesques, with a modern-day Minneapolis as tangible and strange as his Winesburg, Ohio. A stunning and unique work from one of the living masters of the story form.”

Kirkus Reviews, *starred review*
“Bare storylines can’t convey the quickly captivating simple narratives…or the revealing moments to which Baxter brings the reader…Similarly, Baxter, a published poet, at times pushes his fluid, controlled prose to headier altitudes, as in ‘high wispy cirrus clouds threatening the sky like promissory notes.’ Nearly as organic as a novel, this is more intriguing, more fun in disclosing its connective tissues through tales that stand well on their own.”

Publishers Weekly, *starred review*
“Five stories named for virtues and five for vices make up this collection from a master craftsman….Baxter’s characters muddle through small but pivotal moments, not so much confrontations as crossroads between love and destruction, desire and death….The prose resonates with distinctive turns of phrase that capture human ambiguity and uncertainty: trouble waits patiently at home, irony is the new chastity, and a dying man lives in the house that pain designed for him.”

Library Journal, *starred review*
“Baxter’s delightful stories will make readers hungry for more. Fortunately, there are more out there, and one hopes, more to come.”

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-11-20
The author's sixth collection of short fiction features stories linked by place, character, verbal echo, and a master's hand for foibles and fellowship. The place is mostly Minneapolis, the repeated phrase is that of the title, with its modest appeal and its larger reminder that no one gets through life without hearing a call or cry for help. A young pediatrician bravely breaks up a mugging. A man who has been mugged (and whose assailant in another story will need help with his drug addiction) stops a woman from leaping off a bridge. A man gives shelter to his ex-wife after she turns into a bag lady. (The book's last use of the title comes somewhat too pointedly from a Schindler Jew.) Several characters have encounters that suggest nonhuman help is available (a spiritual element also lies in the ten stories named after five virtues and five vices). The pediatrician's wife on their Prague honeymoon hears a crone's prophecy of her pregnancy. The doctor, the book's most frequently recurring figure, spends most of one story talking to the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock on a park bench and then asks his wife to pray for him. Bare storylines can't convey the quickly captivating simple narratives around them or the revealing moments to which Baxter (Gryphon, 2011, etc.) brings the reader, like the doctor's exhilaration with the physical violence of beating the muggers. Similarly, Baxter, a published poet, at times pushes his fluid, controlled prose to headier altitudes, as in "high wispy cirrus clouds threading the sky like promissory notes." Nearly as organic as a novel, this is more intriguing, more fun in disclosing its connective tissues through tales that stand well on their own.
Library Journal
★ 11/01/2014
In one of his essays on craft, Baxter (Feast of Love) talks about the art of subtext. His new collection of short stories shows him to be a master of that art. His characters, mostly Midwesterners, are smart and well educated but not glib and have strong feelings they can't articulate fully. The book is divided into two sections, with the first part comprising stories titled after classical virtues, e.g., bravery, loyalty, and forbearance, and the second titled for five of the seven deadly sins (lust, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and vanity). This structure may seem overly programmatic and potentially predictable, but the stories themselves are anything but. A few repeating characters play leading roles in both parts. Moreover, the stories named after virtues don't necessarily end happily, nor are those named after vices free of heroic gestures. Among the memorable characters are Benny, who repeatedly falls for difficult women ("Chastity") and falls apart when they leave ("Lust"), and Elijah, a sweet-mannered, handsome young pediatrician who, a few decades later, displays a paunch and eats jumbo bags of potato chips while alone in his car ("Gluttony") even as he fiercely defends the honor of his seemingly taciturn son. VERDICT Baxter's delightful stories will make readers hungry for more. Fortunately, there are more out there, and, one hopes, more to come. [See Prepub Alert, 8/22/14.]—Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101870013
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/03/2015
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

There's Something I Want You to Do

Stories


By Charles Baxter

Random House LLC

Copyright © 2015 Charles Baxter
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-101-87001-3


CHAPTER 1

Three weeks later, on his way out to his evening stroll, Benny passed two of his friends, the lesbians from down the hall, Donna and Ellie, just outside the building. They referred to themselves alphabetically as "the D and the E," and tonight they were walking their keeshonds. Engaged in conversation, they waved to him as he crossed the block. He waved back, not wanting to interrupt them. When the two women were talking together, the bond between them—heads turned in a mutual gaze, slightly bowed, the conversation quiet and slow and half-smiling—seemed more intimate than sex. Their friendship, no, their love, resembled ... what? Prayer, or some other category that Benny didn't currently believe in.

By the time he reached the Washington Avenue Bridge across the Mississippi, he had worked up a light sweat. He planned to cross the river, turn around, and then head back. He would shower before bed and be asleep by midnight. Tonight the joggers and lovers were out in force, along with the shabby old men who held out their hands for money. A panhandle was like a scream: you never knew what was appropriate, how much help to offer, what to do.

Crossing the bridge on the pedestrian level, he counted the number of people on foot. He liked taking inventories; solid figures reassured him. About seven people were out tonight, including one guy with a backpack sprinting in Benny's direction, two people strolling, and a young woman with a vaguely studenty appearance who stood motionless, leaning against the railing and staring down at the river. The sodium lights gave them all an orange-tan tint. The young woman tapped her fingers along the guardrail, took out a cell phone, and after taking a picture of herself, dropped the phone into the river below. She licked her lips and laughed softly as the phone disappeared into the dark.

Benny stopped. Something was about to happen. As he watched, she gathered herself up and with a quick athletic movement hoisted herself over so that she was standing on the railing's other side with her arms braced on the metalwork behind her. If she released her arms and leaned forward, she would plunge down into the river. One jogger went past her without noticing what she was doing. What was she doing? Benny hurried toward her.

Seeing him out of the corner of her eye, she turned and smirked.

"Stop!" he commanded. "Wait. Don't!" He wasn't sure what to say. "What are you doing? Who are you?"

"I'm nobody. Who are you?"

"I'm just Benny," he said. "That's dangerous. Please. Why are you doing that?"

"No reason. For fun. A cheap thrill. I'm bungee jumping," she said. "Only without the bungee. See the cord?" She pointed down to where no cord was visible. "Just kidding! It's imaginary! Also, I've been feeling real cold behind my eyes," she said, "so I thought I'd do something exciting to heat myself up." Her speech style was oddly animated, and she seemed very pretty in a drab sort of way, like an honorable-mention beauty queen who hadn't taken proper care of herself. Something was off in the grooming department. Her long brown hair fell over her shoulders, and her T-shirt had a corporate logo and the words JUST DO IT across the front. Her eyes, when she glanced at Benny, were deep and penetrating. Her feet in sandals displayed toenails polished a bright red, so that under the streetlights they had the appearance of war paint. She gave off a shadowy gleam. "I've been feeling kind of temporary lately," she said. "How about you, Benny? You been feeling permanent?"

He reached out for her arm and clasped it. "Yes, I have. So. Please come back," he said.

"Fuck you doin'?" she said, laughing. "Don't harass me. Let go. Let go of me or maybe I'll actually jump." Irony was the new form of chastity and was everywhere these days. You never knew whether people meant what they said or whether it was all a goof.

"No," Benny said. "I don't think so. I won't let go." To his astonishment, a couple strolled past them without paying them any mind at all. He thought of crying out for help, but noise might panic this woman, startle her, inspiring her to make her move, unless she was playing a late-night prank. After all, she was grinning. Dear God, he thought, the perfect incongruity of that grin. He felt a sudden resolve to hold on to her forever if he had to.

"This isn't a big plan I have," she said cheerfully. "It's just a personal happening." She waited. "Don't you ever want to get on the other side of the boundary? It's so exciting over here, so lethal. It looks back at you." She waited. "So much fun. And against boredom? Boredom," she said urgently, "must be defeated."

"You shouldn't be standing there. It's a terrible idea."

"Don't be like that," she said, staring down at the river. "Okay, maybe it's a terrible idea, but it's my idea." Now she appeared to be sneering. She had a blue barrette in her hair. "Do you think it would take a long time to fall? What would falling feel like?" She tipped her head back. "I think it would feel like being famous. I'd laugh all the way down. I'd sign autographs."

"No. It would feel like nothing. Then like being ripped apart by water. It'd really hurt." He waited with his hand around her arm. He was quite strong; like everyone else he knew, he went to the gym and kept fit, and just when he had begun to consider how much she weighed and how long he'd be able to hold on to her if she leaped off the ledge and dangled there, he remembered to ask, "What's your name?"

"I won't tell you," she said. "Okay, yes, I will. It's Desdemona."

"Thanks." He moved slightly so that he was behind her, and still holding her arm, he moved his other arm so that it encircled her waist. A car honked at them. "So-called Desdemona," he said, "please come back to this side. Okay?"

"Um, no? Just leave me alone? Besides, don't you even want to get on the other side of the railing with me? How about some solidarity? Don't you ever want a thrill? Or a chill? Or a spill? Stop touching me!"

"No."

She laughed. "Such a spoilsport. Such a square." She twisted her head back. "You must be from around here. You smell of the Midwest."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from There's Something I Want You to Do by Charles Baxter. Copyright © 2015 Charles Baxter. Excerpted by permission of Random House LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Charles Baxter is the author of the novels The Feast of Love (nominated for the National Book Award), The Soul Thief, Saul and Patsy, Shadow Play, and First Light, and the story collections Gryphon, Believers, A Relative Stranger, Through the Safety Net, and Harmony of the World.  The stories “Bravery” and “Charity,” which appear in There’s Something I Want You to Do, were included in Best American Short Stories. Baxter lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date of Birth:
May 13, 1947
Place of Birth:
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Education:
B. A., Macalester College, 1969; Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 1974
Website:
http://www.charlesbaxter.com

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