REVIEW | Celebrity Chekhov by Ben Greenman

Celebrity Chekhov by Ben Greenman

image via Strand

title: Celebrity Chekhov [support an independent bookseller and purchase at Strand]
author: Ben Greenman
genre: short stories/adaptations
pages: 205
published: 2010
source: New York Public Library

The circumstances surrounding my reading of Greenman’s Celebrity Chekhov were, fittingly, Chekhovian. In March, I was seeing someone who is a fairly substantial Chekhov enthusiast. He had taken me to see Chekhovek! (which we decided must be Russian for “bad acting”), a staging of a series of Anton Chekhov’s short stories, which piqued my interest in Greenman’s “celebritization.” (More on my life’s Chekhovian plot twist post-rubric-rating.) Thankfully, Greenman has a far deeper understanding of Chekhov than the men of Chekhovek!

Greenman’s premise is simple: he believes that Chekhov’s understanding of human nature and error is timeless. In his introduction he says:

“Chekhov drew his characters from all levels of Russian society in his time: peasants, aristocrats, intense young clerks, disappointed wives. Today, in America, we have a simple way of identifying these flawed specimens of humanity ruled by ego and insecurity. They are called ‘celebrities.'”

My personal favorite story: Greenman’s retelling of “The Death of a Government Clerk” entitled “The Death of a Redheaded Man,” where he recasts the government clerk as Conan O’Brien and the general in the Department of Transport as Larry King. Super insightful and pitch perfect recasting.

Rubric rating: 8. I am a New Yorker junkie, so I figured I’d love this collection. Really want to move his collection What He’s Poised To Do up in my insanely long “to read” list.

And how were my circumstances Chekhovian, you ask? Chekhov’s characters tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves and are usually either pining over someone they can’t have (Chekhov is HUGE on unrequited love) or battling distinct dissatisfaction with their lives and circumstances. In my case, the gentleman I was seeing, whom I had developed pretty strong feelings for, has recently discovered he does not feel the same about me and ended our affair. After dealing with the sadness, more bitter than sweet, I’ve been in a pretty intense state of ennui. I would laugh at how life has imitated art…if I wasn’t so weary…maybe I should work?

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