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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.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-199049-6
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2010


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