Given the increasing prevalence of hyphenates in the entertainment field – actor-photographer-author, singer-actor-painter, and so on – in which proven accomplishment in one area allows for vain indulgence in others, it’s both refreshing and heartening to see a genuinely multitalented multitasker emerge. Such is the case with novelist and screenwriter David Benioff, author of both the book and the film “The 25th Hour,” the Brad Pitt epic “Troy” and the short story collection “When the Nines Roll Over & Other Short Stories.”
Comprised of eight short stories, the collection offers an eclectic gallery of characters and situations ranging from a record company talent scout wooing a singer away from her band to a man who becomes increasingly fascinated with the legend of his girlfriend’s late father to a trio of Russian soldiers in Chechnya, from a pair of gay lovers dying of AIDS, and so on. Though there are no formal or thematic links between the stories, all appear to have been informed by Jean Renoir’s dictum, “Everyone has their reasons.” Indeed, Benioff’s great strength as a storyteller is his ability to economically shade the emotions and explore the nuances of all his characters. Some may be more honest than others, some more selfish or even more mentally disturbed than others, but everyone has their reasons.
The stories’ prose tends to be fluid, lean and direct. Benioff knows how to put a sting into a sentence and has a gift for metaphor, but he’s not a stylistically flashy writer; he would rather absorb than dazzle us as we enter the characters’ worlds. The one exception to this approach is the darkly humorous “De Composition,” a tale which will have you initially wincing that a few typos made their way into a published book before realizing they’re part of a skillful narrative strategy and essential to the story’s memorable punchline.
Benioff is not always above the de rigueur twist ending (that’s really not that much of a twist) which has plagued many an otherwise fine short story. But he never gives in to either forced or easy irony, preferring instead to highlight the emotional weight and psychological implications inherent in the twist in a way that’s both honest and empathic. Nowhere is this truer than in “The Barefoot Girl in Clover,” the ending of which centers upon a briefly mentioned, almost trivial, incident earlier in the story, the significance of which neither the story’s narrator nor reader can fully comprehend until it’s too late. With a magician’s sleight of hand, Benioff deftly transforms a poignant, simple and seemingly complete story into a complex and haunting tragedy all in the final two paragraphs.
With two books and four screenplays (including the psychological thriller “Stay” and the recent screen adaptation of “The Kite Runner”) to his credit, David Benioff has proven himself a worthy hyphenate. But, please, no art exhibits or albums next.
Quentin Dunne is a psychology graduate student and Mustang Daily book reviewer.