David Benioff

"When the Nines Roll Over"

(Reviewed by Tony Ross JUN 4, 2006)

I first read Benioff a few years ago in "Zoetrope: All-Story" magazine, where three of the stories in this book first appeared. I then read and loved his novel The 25th Hour, and so am glad to get my hands on this collection of eight stories. There aren't that many young American writers whose work excites me, but Benioff is certainly one of them. His prose is clear and crisp, without the affectation or self-consciousness one finds in so much coming out these days. The stories collected here show a nice range of subject matter and tone, ranging from pure realism to slight surrealism, but almost all contain threads of loss, disappointment, and forlorn hope. Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay to the stories, is that even though I didn't connect with some of them, I still loved reading them.

The opening (and title) story, is one of these, following a record label A&R man (essentially a high-end scout) who pursues a talented punk girl and spirits her away to Los Angeles and out of the life of her drummer boyfriend. It felt a little old-fashioned in a lot of ways. Do record label execs still act like that? Are they really that interested in transforming punk chicks into superstars? But it did nicely capture that moment in relationships when one person has moved on to bigger and presumably better things, and their lover just doesn't fit in the picture any more. Another story, "The Garden of No," is very similar thematically, only here it's a waitress turned television actress, and the man is a short-order cook.

Misfiring romance figures prominently in three other stories as well. "Barefoot Girl in Clover" tells of a 30ish man who tries to track down a girl he hung out with for a day as a teenager. "Neversink" is about a New York couple and the aftermath of their breakup. In "Merde For Luck," a gay man recounts his last relationship from beginning to grim end. What's interesting is that in all three of these stories, the narrator is either missing a crucial piece of information or operating under some major misconception. This allows Benioff to set each up for a major fall late in the story, when all is revealed. The lesson seems to be that if women don't betray you, life will find a way to.

The three other stories are a little harder to categorize. "The Devil Comes to Orekhovo" is a great story with a very traditional feel to it. It follows three Russian soldiers on patrol in Chechnya as they scout out a house that may or may not contain Chechen separatists. Benioff brilliantly captures the unease and awkwardness of the youngest, rawest soldier, as the older men mock him and eventually put him to a nasty test. It deserves a place with Tolstoy and Lermontov's stories of the Russian experience in the Caucuses. "Zoanthropy" is a strange story about a young man whose father is called in to shoot lions when they appear in New York. It left me kind of blah, but again, I enjoyed reading it. Finally, "De Composition," is a Twilight Zone-inspired take on a man locked into a bunker with his computer following some kind of global cataclysm. Felt a little derivative, but nicely done with a clever ending.

On the whole, this is a very strong collection of stories. Hopefully Benioff can find time away from the lucrative world of screenwriting to write another novel.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 22 reviews

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About the Author:

David BenioffDavid Benioff was born in 1970 in New York City. He went to Dartmouth College and the University of California Irvine. He received a Masters in the creative writing program.

He adapted his first novel, 25th Hour, into a film directed by Spike Lee and thus began his career as a hot Hollywood screenwriter. He adapted the screenplay of Troy (2004)and also sold his script Stay, which was released in 2005. Other projects include the X-Men spin-off Wolverine (2007), The Kite Runner (2007) and Ender's Game (2008).

Benioff lives in New York City and engaged to actress Amanda Peet.

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