Berlin, Adam 1966-
BERLIN, Adam 1966-
PERSONAL: Born 1966.
ADDRESSES: Offıce—Dept. of the Arts, Mail Code 4108, 612 Lewisohn Hall, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027-6902. Agent—c/o Author Mail, St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer and educator. Columbia University, New York, NY, adjunct assistant professor in the writing program.
Headlock (novel), Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 2000.
Belmondo Style (novel), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Adam Berlin's debut novel, Headlock, is the story of Odessa "Dess" Rose, a "loose cannon" who attended college on a wrestling scholarship and who once beat an opponent with a chair after losing a match to him. Dess's temper has provoked fights with men in New York bars, and he is now earning a living parking cars. Dess is the one failure in a family headed by an academic father that also includes his younger brother, Derek, who is making top grades at Harvard University. Dess's cousin, Gary, ten years his senior and weighing in at four hundred pounds, is a professional gambler. Gary is on his way to Las Vegas, Nevada, and asks Dess to come along. When Dess's boss refuses to give him the time off, Dess assaults the man, and then leaves with Gary.
Eventually, Dess learns Gary's reason for taking him. Gary owes a large gambling debt, and he is going to be killed if he does not come up with the cash. He enlists Dess's help in a card-counting scam at the blackjack table, but before the two men can accumulate enough money a hit man shows up, wearing blue sunglasses. A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that although the unfolding story is a bit predictable, "Berlin displays a nice, quirky sense of dialogue, and his violent scenes are etched with convincing—if sometimes gruesome—detail."
Ryan James Kim in Advocate felt that with Belmondo Style, Berlin "has blended both old and new to create a fresh story about being gay and sixteen." Berlin explores his protagonist's coming-of-age along with his growing awareness of his sexuality, resulting in a more universal story about the teen years. Ben Chiziver is a sophomore at Stuvyesant High School and a track star who lives with his father, Jared, a small-time pickpocket who steals enough from tourists and businessmen to modestly support them. Jared also fancies himself to be like his favorite anti-heroes of film, including Robert Mitchum and Jean-Paul Belmondo, the ill-fated car thief in Jean-Luc Godard's classic 1960 film, Breathless.
The two live in the West Village, and the father and son are close. Jared loves Ben, and they frequently engage in conversations about life and love. Jared is a handsome man and a "player" who has no trouble attracting women, but when he meets Anna, a photographer, he—and Ben—realize he has finally met his perfect mate. At about the same time, Ben meets a man while out running, and they agree to meet again. When they do, they are seen kissing by a gay basher who viciously attacks Ben while the other man flees. As Ben lies in the hospital, Jared plans his revenge.
Eric Hanson wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune Online that this is "a pivotal point in Ben's life and the novel. The man who attacked Ben is friendly with the police, and Jared isn't the type of father to watch idly while the system fails to deliver justice for his son. When Jared seeks revenge, it is awful, blood-thirsty, and satisfyingly Old Testament." Jared, Ben, and Anna leave New York for Florida, ostensibly for a vacation, but the journey is ultimately an escape from the law. When their funds begin to run out, Jared considers that he might have to "steal big" in order for them to survive.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer who praised the novel's character-driven plot also felt that "Berlin has yet to display the full force of his narrative abilities. Intelligent and promising, this sharp, sophomore effort feels like the calm before the storm." Joanne Wilkinson noted in Booklist that the plot has a few weaknesses, but added that "it hardly seems to matter. With its macho staccato language and riveting characters, this novel is all about mood and motion." Hanson called the relationship between Ben and Jared "one of the most interesting and credible father-son duos I can remember reading."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Advocate, June 22, 2004, Ryan James Kim, review of Belmondo Style, p. 94.
Booklist, April 1, 2000, Vanessa Bush, review of Headlock, p. 1434; March 1, 2004, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Belmondo Style, p. 1136.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2004, review of BelmondoStyle, p. 47.
Library Journal, April 1, 2000, Joshua Cohen, review of Headlock, p. 128.
Publishers Weekly, April 3, 2000, review of Headlock, p. 61; February 16, 2004, review of Belmondo Style, p. 150.
Tikkun, January, 2001, review of Headlock, p. 61.
Startribune.com (Minneapolis, MN), http://www.startribune.com/ (June 20, 2004), Eric Hanson, review of Belmondo Style.