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WHAT HE’S POISED TO DO by Ben Greenman

WHAT HE’S POISED TO DO

Stories

By Ben Greenman

Pub Date: June 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-198740-3
Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

More stories from the New Yorker editor and indie-lit notable.

The title story follows a business traveler in the process of abandoning his wife and child, and it’s written in a distinctly alienating—almost mechanical—tone. This work first appeared in a project of Greenman’s called “Correspondences,” which encompassed both a limited-edition book and a forum for reader participation. Whether or not that project was a success is outside the scope of this review, but, in the context of this collection, the story is a dud. A McSweeney’s alum, Greenman is known for his willingness to experiment with form and style, and this is not the first time he has repurposed his own material (2003’s Superworse was a revised version of 2001’s Superbad). But too many of the stories here feel like exercises. “Barn,” for example, seems to exist so that Greenman can mimic the voice of a Nebraska farmwife in 1962, and it has an ending, seemingly fraught with meaning and pathos, that’s inconsequential. Some of the pieces merit the exuberant praise he has enjoyed in the past. “Against Samantha,” the tale of a young man who might leave his fiancée if he wasn’t so enamored of her mother, is a deep delight. It’s set in 1928, and Greenman achieves an authentically upper-crust, vintage tone, and the anxiety his protagonist experiences provides a bracing dose of weirdness that keeps the proceedings from becoming precious.

An uneven collection, unlikely to create a new audience for Greenman.