Beller, Thomas 1965–
Beller, Thomas 1965–
PERSONAL: Born May 23, 1965. Education: Vassar College, B.A.; Columbia University, M.F.A.
CAREER: Open City (magazine), Manhattan, NY, cofounder and coeditor; creator of the Web sites, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, and Mapsites.net. Has worked in a bagel factory and as a bike messenger.
Seduction Theory: Stories, Norton (New York, NY), 1995.
(Editor) Personals: Dreams and Nightmares from the Lives of Twenty Young Writers, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.
The Sleep-Over Artist (stories), Norton (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor, with Kip Kotzen) With Love and Squalor: Fourteen Writers Respond to the Work of J.D. Salinger, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Before and After: Stories from New York, Norton (New York, NY), 2002.
How To Be a Man: Scenes from a Protracted Boyhood (essays), Norton (New York, NY), 2005.
Also author of Cabinet 9: Childhood, and contributor to several anthologies. Contributor of short stories to New Yorker, Ploughshares, Mademoiselle, Southwest Review, Cambodia Daily, and New York; contributor of articles to Mademoiselle, New Yorker, New York Times and Harper's Bazaar; contributing editor of Cambodia Daily.
The story "A Different Kind of Imperfection," is included in Best American Short Stories 1992, edited by Robert Stone.
SIDELIGHTS: Thomas Beller is a New York writer whose short stories portray the plight of young, middle-class urbanites. Reviewers warmed to Beller's first collection, Seduction Theory: Stories, with its depictions of characters trying to connect with one another but invariably failing. According to Lucy Atkins of the Times Literary Supplement, the stories portray a "society teeming with desperate characters who long to bond with others, yet fear for their self-preservation."
Half the stories in Seduction Theory feature Alex Fader, a character critics generally identify with the author himself, as he grows from pre-adolescence to young adulthood. "The [Alex] Fader stories are the most memorable and show off Beller's true talent," observed Elizabeth Manus in the San Francisco Review of Books. A contributor to Publishers Weekly described the collection's last story, in which Alex introduces his lover to his overprotective mother during a family Hanukkah gathering, as "aglow with wise humor and heartfelt compassion."
Time critic Gina Bellafante observed that Seduction Theory's setting and subject—"a hyperexposed world of young, well-bred New Yorkers" looking for love but afraid of commitment—is familiar, but maintained that Beller had created "touching and exceptionally memorable tales" from his material. Other critics similarly proclaimed themselves charmed by Beller's carefully crafted stories and rueful but precise observations on young urban love. Beller's stories "recall … the poignant nostalgia of Cheever, and the earnest but confused innocence of Salinger," Albert E. Wilhelm wrote in the Library Journal.
Beller was working in a bagel factory when "A Different Kind of Imperfection," one of the stories collected in Seduction Theory, was published in Best American Short Stories 1992. In an interview with Manus, the author discussed the uncertainties and ironies of the life of a writer. "I am constantly having misgivings about this profession…. The world at large is unfriendly to fiction writers," said Beller. During the interview, the author also noted each of the stories in Seduction Theory was subjected to his practice of completing a piece, putting it away for a time, and reworking it again before he considered it finished. "Fiction has a cleaner, more candid world view," he told Manus. "It's more honest because it's had time to be."
In Personals: Dreams and Nightmares from the Lives of Twenty Young Writers, Beller compiles twenty short memoirs. As editor, Beller's only direction to the writers was to "find something that matters … and write a story about it," reported a Publishers Weekly contributor. Yet Paula Friedman of New Criterion felt that "the relative youth of these writers probably accounts for some for their difficulties." According to Friedman, the writers are too self-conscious in their art. She commented: "Too often these writers seem so bent on eschewing sentimentality that they end up squelching all sentiment." On the other hand, Katherine K. Koenig of the Library Journal said that the collection contains an honest portrayal of young people. She noted that the book "taps the angst of new and aspiring twentysomething writers."
Beller's collection The Sleep-Over Artist reunites readers with Alex Fader from Seduction Theory. This short story collection follows him from age six through adulthood. Erin Doyle, a reviewer for Book, commented: "Beller's prose is often sharp and funny;" however, she then pointed out that both the book's writer and protagonist are "distractingly self-aware for too much of the book." Other reviewers also acknowledged that the book might be a bit too focused on its central character. Nevertheless, a Publishers Weekly reviewer called The Sleep-Over Artist "carefully crafted," and called Alex "curious and keenly observant."
In 2001 Beller coedited With Love and Squalor: Fourteen Writers Respond to the Work of J.D. Salinger. The essays in the collection range from serious to hilarious and serve as a tribute to Salinger's immense influence on adolescent readers. Some reviewers took issue with the youthful feel of the book. However, Kristine Huntley, writing in Booklist, stated, "These intelligent and reflective essays will have readers eagerly reaching for their copies of Salinger's books." According to a contributor to Kirkus Reviews, the book offers "some humdinging stuff, as much tortured fun as their subject."
Beller published Before and After: Stories from New York, which contains sixty stories collected from his Web site, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood. Half of the stories in the book take place before the September 11 attacks, and half of the book takes place after them. Of the tone of the first half, a Publishers Weekly reviewer pointed out that "the feel is definitively late '90s, and the city seems full of promise, romance and cash." A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted, "The writers knew they were onto something good, fleeting, and worth the telling," and then went on to compare each story to a crab apple: "Bite into it and it bites you back."
How to Be a Man: Scenes from a Protracted Childhood is also a collection, but this time of personal essays. Many of the essays were previously published in the New Yorker and the New York Times. Together, they chronicle the relationships of an aging New Yorker. Some reviewers commented on the lack of structure and cohesiveness in the organization of the collection. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book a "loose assemblage of Beller's nonfiction pieces." Yet a contributor to Publishers Weekly noted the "spare, crisp language" and stated that the essays are reminiscent of "Raymond Carver in their clarity of language and subdued emotion."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, September, 2000, review of The Sleep-Over Artist, p. 81.
Booklist, May 1, 2000, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of The Sleep-Over Artist, p. 1648; October 1, 2001, Kristine Huntley, review of With Love and Squalor: Fourteen Writers Respond to the Work of J.D. Salinger, p. 294.
Entertainment Weekly, August 7, 1998, review of Personals: Dreams and Nightmares from the Lives of Twenty Young Writers, p. 67; August 12, 2005, Gilbert Cruz, review of How to Be a Man: Scenes from a Protracted Boyhood, p. 82.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1998, review of Personals, p. 787; April 15, 2000, review of The Sleep-Over Artist, p. 492; August 1, 2001, review of With Love and Squalor, p. 1093; December 15, 2001, review of Before and After: Stories from New York, p. 1729; May 1, 2005, review of How to Be a Man, p. 519-520.
Library Journal, May 15, 1995, Albert E. Wilhelm, review of Seduction Theory: Stories, p. 98; July, 1998, Katherine K. Koenig, review of Personals, p. 91; August 1, 2005, Audrey Snowden, review of How to Be a Man, p. 84.
Los Angeles Times, July 9, 2000, review of The Sleep-Over Artist, p. 11.
M2 Best Books, February 12, 2002, review of Before and After.
New Criterion, January, 1999, Paula Friedman, review of Personals, p. 76.
New Yorker, October 5, 1998, Daphne Merkin, review of Personals, p. 108.
Publishers Weekly, April 17, 1995, review of Seduction Theory, p. 39; June 29, 1998, review of Personals, p. 48; April 17, 2000, review of The Sleep-Over Artist, p. 46; January 21, 2002, review of Before and After p. 78; May 16, 2005, review of How to Be a Man, p. 51; August 15, 2005 David Bahr, "He Got Game: Thomas Beller Does it All," p. 18.
San Francisco Review of Books, May-June, 1995, Elizabeth Manus, interview and review of Seduction Theory, p. 11.
Time, July 10, 1995, Gina Bellafante, review of Seduction Theory, p. 46.
Times Literary Supplement, September 1, 1995, Lucy Atkins, review of Seduction Theory, p. 21.
Tribune Books, November 25, 2001, review of The Sleep-Over Artist, p. 6.
Mr. Beller's Neighbor hood, http://mrbellersneighborhood.com (October 25, 2005).
Thomas Beller Home Page, http://thomasbeller.com (October 25, 2005).