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Benjamin Cheever   Famous After Death  
Benjamin Cheever    
Benjamin Cheever: an essay

Famous After Death: an excerpt



  Benjamin Cheever's Famous After Death is the story of a man with the very ordinary desire to be extraordinary. It is a funny, sharp and inventive novel, but what makes it strike something in the reader--because comic novels tend to amuse and charm and maybe beguile, but ultimately are forgotten--is how it recreates, with paradoxical subtlety, the peculiar hunger of our time: not to be rich, not to be brilliant, not even to be happy, but to be famous. In this culture of saturated image, commercialism, advertising and media, most people can sympathize with Ben Cheever's protagonistís hunger to be famous. When we shut our eyes for a moment and listen to that tiny voice hiding in the amygdala (that's where it crouches), we'll hear its rasping command, "Stand out, stand out, stand out." This natural urge to distinguish oneself is timeless, the working of ego, but with television, movies, magazines, it gets amplified to a pathological degree. But Ben Cheever addresses the phenomenon of celebrity culture much better than the rampant sociologists and pop-culture logisticians; he does it hilariously, ridiculously, cleverly, and even with a sly, shy hopefulness.

It should also be mentioned, to be fair to the author, that this is one of the funniest novels to be published in years. Upon rereading it, one discovers more and more surprising narrative twists, along with incredible moments of dialogue, so that it feels as if Famous After Death were written in draft layers, like laying transparencies one on top of another, until a rich and brilliant image appears. And lastly, it's hard, very hard, to be funny and avoid being cruel, and then to squire some meaning into the comical, but Ben Cheever does it with ease and grace, laughing.

In this issue of Bold Type you'll find an excerpt of Famous After Death and an original essay by Benjamin Cheever.
 
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  Photo of Benjamin Cheever copyright © Susan Farley

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