Chekhov’s stories serve as a template for Greenman’s unique perspective: lives caught in the spotlight of popular culture, albeit colored by the nuances of bad behavior. As Chekhov found his characters in all levels of Russian society, Greenman plunders that particular breed known as “celebrity.” Like Chekhov’s exploration of the flaws of those who people his stories, this collection is filled with the names of familiar actors, performers those who have plucked infamy from the headlines.
In “Tall and Short,” Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie meet in an airport, grown beyond the pettiness of their reality-show squabbles but trapped in the polite falsity of media attention. Then it is on to a panicked David Letterman, faced with the irrefutable evidence of another extramarital dalliance and his wife’s reaction (“A Transgression”). Sarah Palin’s orchestrated celebrity on the national stage is mirrored in the stuttering words of gratitude she has yet to polish for common consumption (“The Album”). Eminem protests the family’s excessive racket when he is composing yet leaves his study door open lest they forget there’s a genius at work (“Hush”).
Tongue-in-cheek, rapier wit sharpened to a deadly point, Greenman thrusts and parries, skewering the pretensions of celebrity, ego and insecurities of those who bask in their fifteen minutes of fame through accident or craft. He captures the egocentricity of fame - at least as we have come to identify our gods and goddesses, the speech patterns, gestures and entourages. It is even possible to muster sympathy for an oblivious Lindsay Lohan, berated by an anxious mother, a commodity cracking under the weight of expectations (“A Classical Student”).
Two stories are particularly thought-provoking: “The Darling” and “A Trilogy.” In “The Darling,” Nicole Kidman is a fairytale creature who absorbs the opinions of the men she loves to provide structure in a pointless existence. In “A Trilogy,” Jamie Foxx rhapsodizes about a lost romance with Jay-Z’s wife, Beyonce (“About Love”), and Jack Nicholson (“Gooseberries”) laments, “I wish I was Young! I wish I was young!”
Kim Kardashian announces her impending fame via an explicit videotape (“Joy”), while “Terror,” the tale featuring Michael Douglas, is painfully coincidental. Greenman makes his point, all in good fun and entirely fictional, slipping off his celebrities’ designer footwear to reveal feet of clay. Alec Baldwin is unable to find a place to rest his head (“Not Wanted”), while the ubiquitous, down-on-his-luck Garey Busy imposes on anyone who will listen (“Terror”).
Perhaps more relatable than Chekhov’s Russians in their modernity, the characters in these stories thrash around in existential agony, their dramas, real and imagined, made more farcical by a ravenous media, rabid fans and the financial rewards of a society where even the most banal among us can achieve temporary fame with a YouTube video. Humanity hasn’t changed from one century to another, but technology has birthed a new kind of monster.