REIMAGINING BEN

Books

In this lightly absurdist comedy, fraternal twin brothers find their lives upended by a narcissistic writer and exacerbated by their unresolved rivalry.

Jay and George Raven are a curious and contentious pair of siblings living in North London. The foulmouthed George is a celebrity biographer who flamboyantly reinvents his subjects’ lives for his readers. All he says and does is equal parts clever and crushing, and he rarely lets up on his brother for being born mere minutes before he was. In contrast, Jay is a librarian and serial apologizer, envious of George’s good looks and his confidence as a gay man. These are the reasons he’s never come out himself, and in fact Jay denies he’s gay despite his brother’s insistence that he is. Still, Jay is excited about “the event,” a meet-up with a man, supposedly a stranger, whom he will join naked in bed for just a conversation, an odd yet enticing interview George has set up. But the night before the event, George’s beautiful friend Bendy Andy, who spends time dressing as a stunning Marilyn Monroe with a Meryl Streep nose, introduces the siblings to a popular writer named Ben Eversham. Ben claims to be a fan of George’s but greets him with contempt, exposing himself as a compulsive liar. Ben quickly entangles Jay in a night of coincidences and mysteries involving the proprietors of a local cafe, escorts, organized crime, and two name-dropping police officers. The event is equally surprising for Jay, as the man in the bed turns out to be his brother’s best friend, Tom, “George’s only love.” But Tom is also a lost love of Jay’s—a situation George paradoxically orchestrates but also seethes with contempt over. Early on, George notes that “nonsense is the meaning of life,” a welcoming nod to the good time that awaits readers.

Cacoyannis’ novel recalls Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in that beyond one uproarious moment when Jay and Andy have to stop George from hanging Ben with a makeshift noose, much of the action takes place offstage. The characters’ interpersonal conflicts and the fallout of Ben’s unscrupulous conduct are dealt with in the book’s consuming, sometimes volatile dialogue. But it is not just what the characters say that charms in each scene. Even minor acts, such as ordering drinks at a restaurant, reveal much about the players through their tics, pauses, and silences with an impressive thrift. The story employs a subtle absurdism in its comedy, crafting a world that could almost be real (most of these characters are writers, models, and artists, after all) save for the overwhelming volume of fun coincidences that even later disclosures cannot completely explain. One revelation encompasses a drunken automobile accident, a rare tonal misstep that goes largely unresolved. The tragedy seems far too grave because it directly involves George as opposed to the often comedic, criminal debauchery of Ben. Yet in a book of big, farcically dramatic moments, such as the fighting over the noose, Ben’s projectile vomiting, and Jay’s fainting from the heat like a Victorian protagonist, this level of seriousness is largely left by the wayside for more amusing fumblings by the brothers and their lovers.

A humorous and entertaining character study of two brothers besieged by the preposterous.

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 9798373946506

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2023

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