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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Apt. 3W


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About the Author

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


No, he's not a Beatrix Potter character; quirky Benjamin Button inhabits an apartment building on West 89th Street in New York. There are plenty of debuts, but not all of them are described as brilliant by the publicist. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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.

"[M]ysterious, resonant, haunting; their echoes will stay with you long after you've finished his lovely, lovely book." -- Dale Peck, author of Now It's Time to Say Good "[A] master storyteller...There is no doubt, this collection introduces a great talent." -- Martha McPhee, author of Bright Angel Time "[A] wonderfully unsettling, feverish collection of short stories-funny and haunting and unlike anything else out there." -- Dan Chaon, author of Among the Missing "Uncanny, funny as hell, inventive on every page, Gabriel Brownstein displays sheer literary imagination and writes with impressive vividness." -- Howard Norman, author of The Haunting of L. "Brownstein's is a fresh and jaunty voice, with a jazz snap all his own." -- Tama Janowitz "A breathing monument to childhood, to Manhattan, and in its good-natured way, to literature itself." -- Los Angeles Times Book Review "Completely fresh...truly moving." -- Salon "Fantastically imagined...reverberates with subtle emotional tension." -- Chicago Tribune "Starred Review. Marvelously smooth hybrid tales that prompt readers to think twice about the intersection of life and fiction." -- Publishers Weekly

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