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Richard Grayson, And To Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street

And To Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street is a fine collection of stories from the prolific Richard Grayson. Grayson tells these twenty-nine stories exclusively from a first-person perspective, making them come off as at least partially autobiographical. The back cover copy admits as much, calling the book "part fictional memoir, part memorish fiction," and I've read just enough about Grayson's personal life to know that many of the narratives mirror his own life. This is a bit of a bold move in the post-Frey literary world, where questions over what is fact and what is fiction often distract the reader from the writer's main point--the telling of the story itself. Personally, I don't particularly care how much of these narratives came directly from Grayson's life, and how much he invented. The important thing is that the stories are compellingly readable; Grayson is a natural storyteller, tireless and inventive, and the Lorimer Street stories are of course him telling of his own life but, more importantly, of the world around him.

For me, three stories from the collection stand out. "Conselyea Street" tells of a middle-aged contractor who has lived his entire life in one Brooklyn brownstone, with several generations of his family living there during his youth. The brownstone--owned by his family for decades--is located in what has become a very trendy neighborhood, and the narrator faces the dilemma of choosing, for a tenant, between his young niece and his nearly-as-young lover (the latter, he suspects, is only interested in him for the apartment). He soberly faces a critical decision between keeping family tradition and satisfying fleetingly sensual needs.

"Bottom, New York Times, Front Page, Tiny Print" is a quietly heartbreaking story of a young man who has abandoned his family, which desperately tries contacting him via classified ads in the New York Times. As time goes on, their ads run less and less frequently as they slowly abandon hope of finding him again, and adjust to no longer having him in their lives.

Perhaps the strongest story, "The Lost Movie Theaters of Southeastern Brooklyn and Rockaway Beach," is told through Grayson's recurring device of a lengthy list of places and people from his life, with added commentary. In this story, he catalogs an extensive list of defunct movie theaters, each with its own distinct section and headings, mentioning where they were located, what movies he saw there and whom he saw them with, what became of the theater buildings and, indirectly, what each theater meant to his life. In one particularly poignant scene, he tries to convince his grandmother, implausibly, to see Boyz N the Hood with him.

"Richard," she said, "my movie-going days are over." Then she wanted to know why I didn't just go two doors down from the theater and bring back a movie from the video store.

"It's not the same thing," I said. I saw Boys N the Hood alone.

The Surfside closed three years later, a few months after my grandmother died.

Driving by on Rockaway Beach Boulevard last summer, I couldn't tell it had once been a movie theater.

This unexpected generational twist--his grandmother wanting to rent a movie, while he longs for the old-fashioned theater experience--was quite a nice touch. And the book is filled with similarly nice touches like this one. A very satisfying effort overall.

May 31, 2006 in Books | Permalink