Cover image for The curious case of Benjamin Button, Apt. 3W
The curious case of Benjamin Button, Apt. 3W
Brownstein, Gabriel.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [2002]

Physical Description:
223 pages ; 22 cm

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In this brilliantly inventive collection of stories, the author captures the disparate lives of the residents of Manhattan's West 89th Street from marriages, car accidents, love affairs, and adoptions.

Author Notes

Gabriel Brownstein won the Hemingway/PEN Award for a first book of fiction for this collection. His stories have appeared in Zoetrope: All Story, The Northwest Review, The Literary Review, and The Hawaii Review. He lives in Brooklyn, New York

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Brownstein's debut collection of short stories is superb. Both the stories and his mode of telling them are mesmerizing. Their unifying thread is an apartment building on Manhattan's West 89th Street, where the protagonists live; Brownstein uses this controlled environment much as Judith Ortiz-Cofer did in setting her collections Silent Dancing, The Latin Deli, and An Island Like You in a particular apartment complex in a Paterson, New Jersey, Puerto Rican barrio. But Brownstein adds another dimension; some of the stories are redactions of tales from mythology, 19th-century fiction, and 20th-century poetry. The title story, based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, weaves an intriguing tale of how Benjamin Button is born old but, as he advances in years, grows younger, aging in reverse. This story, with its Faustian overtones and suggestions of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, is beautifully controlled and resonant. Brownstein's similes are surprisingly fresh: "his harmonica cried like a hobo in the rain," "Joe laid down bass notes like satin sheets on a bed." The writing is subtle, heavily nuanced, and eminently accessible. This may well be the finest group of short stories this reviewer has ever read. Brownstein is remarkably gifted as a writer of fiction. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All collections of contemporary fiction. R. B. Shuman emeritus, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Table of Contents

Musee Des Beaux Artsp. 15
Bachelor Partyp. 20
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 3Wp. 45
Safetyp. 101
Wakefield, 7Ep. 120
The Inventor of Lovep. 134
A Penal Colony All His Own, 11Ep. 156
The Speedboatp. 175
The Dead Fiddler, 5Ep. 198