Cover image for There's something I want you to do : stories
There's something I want you to do : stories
Baxter, Charles, 1947- author.
Uniform Title:
Short stories. Selections
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Pantheon Books, [2015]
Physical Description:
221 pages ; 22 cm
"The ten inter-related stories in [this collection] are held together by a surreally intricate web of cause and effect--one that slowly ensnares both fictional bystanders and ... readers"--Dust jacket flap.
Bravery -- Loyalty -- Chastity -- Charity -- Forbearance -- Lust -- Sloth -- Avarice -- Gluttony -- Vanity.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Central Library FICTION Adult Fiction Central Library
Audubon Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Boston Free Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Collins Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Eggertsville-Snyder Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Grand Island Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Hamburg Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Kenmore Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Lancaster Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Orchard Park Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Julia Boyer Reinstein Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



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.

Author Notes

Charles Baxter is the author of novels and short story collections. His novels include The Feast of Love, The Soul Thief, Saul and Patsy, Shadow Play, and First Light. His short story collections include Gryphon, Believers, A Relative Stranger, Through the Safety Net, Harmony of the World, and There's Something I Want You to Do. He teaches at the University of Minnesota and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

(Bowker Author Biography) Charles Baxter is author of several novels, including "The Feast of Love", "Shadow Play", & "First Light", & collections of stories including "Believers" & "A Relative Stranger". He teaches writing at the University of Michigan.

(Publisher Provided) He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is the recipient of a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Foundation Award for Writers & an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts & Letters.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Baxter follows his new and selected short story collection, Gryphon (2011), with a book of subtly connected tales pegged to five virtues and five vices. These accomplished stories of precarious marriages and family strife are so laced with paradox and the unexpected and so psychologically intricate, one turns them over and over in one's mind, seeking patterns and gleaning insights. In Bravery, we meet Elijah, a pediatrician growing increasingly distraught over the suffering of his young patients. Elijah serves as the link between characters in the other tales, such as architect Benny, who, in Chastity, falls for Sarah, a suicidal stand-up comic. When she asks him to design a house in which a human being might be happy, he views this baffling request as an architectural koan. Baxter's stories are literary koans, riddling tales that embed moral and spiritual questions in the lives of people who are suddenly confronted by inexplicable troubles; they try to be heroes and sometimes succeed. Gradually, Baxter leads us into eerie and cosmic realms, as in Sloth, when Elijah is assailed by visitations and assures himself that he's just seeing things as the shamans once did. Rooted in Minneapolis, its industrial ruins so poetically rendered, these ravishing, funny, and compassionate stories redefine our perceptions of vice and virtue, delusion and reason, love and loss.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. 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 (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



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." Excerpted from There's Something I Want You to Do: Stories by Charles Baxter All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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