Ben Greenman, the novelist, New Yorker editor, and satirist responsible for 2001's McLovin-less short story collection, Superbad, has alternated between arch humor and bluntly affecting short stories over the course of his career. Greenman takes the latter approach with his latest book, What He's Poised to Do, which he discusses tonight with Oscar Villalon. The collection is an extension of Correspondences, a 2008 project that collected Greenman's dispatches from disintegrating relationships in a letterpress accordion-bound art book. Despite his reputation for scabrous cultural satire for the New Yorker and McSweeney's, his tone in Correspondences and What He's Poised to Do is generous and empathetic. He captures relationships both romantic and platonic, in various states of breakdown, the characters baffled by their predicaments. Whether examining a business traveler grasping for connection in a nondescript hotel or a broken family escaping to a moon colony in hopes of a second chance, Greenman is concerned with people reaching for meaning or connections, adrift in situations that defy understanding. The collection reads as a bittersweet complement to his 2007 work, A Circle Is a Balloon and Compass Both: Stories About Human Love. While these are compassionate portrayals of characters unable to navigate the landscapes of their emotional worlds, Greenman's light wit and deft touch keeps the stories moving, even when the characters themselves are unable or unwilling to.
Thu., June 24, 7 p.m., 2010