Wednesday, March 23, 2011

About a boy

By Meredith Deliso

When you just publish a book, it helps to have some distractions from all the publicity, reviews and Amazon rankings. Luckily, Ben Dolnick has plenty.

The Fort Greene author is on his fourth or fifth attempt at “War and Peace,” is starting to obsessively gear up for the 2012 election, and, of course, is constantly writing.

“My method seems to be just flailing away and writing tens of thousands of words, most of which get thrown out,” said Dolnick, who this month celebrates the release of “You Know Who You Are.”

That method seems to work. In the follow up to his debut novel, the enjoyable, much praised “Zoology” (2004) about an 18-year-old who falls in love while working at the Central Park Zoo, Dolnick felt compelled to rewind a bit and tackle childhood.

“I felt like I had a lot about childhood I hadn’t gotten to say,” said Dolnick, 28. “I had a frantic feeling — I’m never going to be closer to childhood than now, so I better write it down.”

As is his preferred strategy, Dolnick started aimlessly putting down everything he remembered about the ages from 8-20. The result is a coming-of-age story about one Jacob Vine, a relatable boy growing up in 1980s Maryland, that’s informed by moments both big and small – the death of his mother, his first crush, the unspoken rules of teenagers, the strained relationship with siblings. It’s a solid, elegiac novel that has a touch of the requisite teenage angst, but also some refreshing dark humor.

“Jacob wondered, occasionally, whether the fact that his mother was dying was a help or a hindrance, on balance, when it came to his getting a girlfriend,” states one passage of the book.

At home in the themes of family and relationships, Dolnick, not surprisingly, is a big fan of writers like Alice Munro — that master of the short story. And though he’ll write the occasional essay, he’ll never stray from the novel.

“It seems to be the form that has the most give in it — you can really shape things with a lot of freedom,” said Dolnick. “For some reason, I tend to think in more novel-sized chunks.”

Ben Donick at Greenlight Bookstore [86 Fulton St. between S. Elliott Place and S. Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 246-0200], March 24 at 7:30 pm. Free. For info, visit


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