Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

This pocket-size box set of three accordion-style booklets looks less like fiction than a curiosity from an antique shop. Look inside, though, and you’ll find an elegant, romantically cracked universe, where a series of mostly male narrators write letters, ponder fantastical inventions such as the karmic boomerang, and prove to be utter failures in love. In one case, a husband describes, to his wife no less, an adulterous weekend and his delicious anticipation as he watched his lover carry their heavy suitcases. “She scowled at me to conceal her appetite,” he exults.

Throughout, the self-absorbed letter-writers reshape the past to suit their own purposes. Though thematically similar, these stories are full of suggestive gaps, and plot points are not in copious supply. Some missives are introduced, but it’s never entirely clear by whom. Greenman, an editor at The New Yorker whose previous books include the humorous Superbad, effectively mines the absurdity of a world in which people deal with their problems through ecstatic delusions. In the hands of these unreliable narrators, the book becomes more unruly and mystifying. Yet there is coherence in the author’s playful wit. Delighting in brain twisters and historical arcana, he could be described as the love child of Paul Auster and John Hodgman.The price of this limited edition is steep, but it might be just the thing for that lovable lout on your list. The isolating disconnect depicted here might inspire reform. Or perhaps he’ll simply enjoy feeling part of a grander history, the latest in a long line of hopelessly clueless guys.

Greenman reads Fri 5.

By Ben Greenman. Hotel St. George, $50.