The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Apt. 3W
By Gabriel Brownstein
W. W. Norton. 192 pages. $23.95.
The rules of plagiarism can be confusing. It’s not okay for you to “borrow” your roommate’s term paper, and historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and the late Stephen Ambrose were recently busted for improperly attributing sources. On the other hand, in his debut collection of short stories, Gabriel Brownstein rips off characters, dialogue, and plot points from Hawthorne and Kafka and nobody seems to mind. What gives?
The Russian Debutante’s Handbook
By Gary Shteyngart
Riverhead. 452 pages. $24.95.
If you came of age in Jewish schools, summer camps, and community centers in the 1990s, as I did, you probably knew more than one kid like Vladimir Girshkin. Think back: remember that ultra-pale, surprisingly hairy 14-year-old whose wardrobe came straight off the sale racks at Kmart in various shades of vinyl? He spoke with an indeterminate accent, was unfamiliar with the touchstones of our culture (cartoons, baseball cards, sugary breakfast cereals), and he wasn’t the guy you wanted to be paired with in lab or gym. Of course, there were plenty of Russians at my day school who adapted perfectly to life in North America, fitting right in with the rest of us—braces, top forty radio, and all—but the one or two oddballs are the ones we remember.
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In Gary Shteyngart’s widely praised debut novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, we discover the fate of such an oddball when he is released into the wider world. (more…)