The first collection of short fiction from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides
Jeffrey Eugenides’s bestselling novels have shown him to be an astute observer of the crises of adolescence, self-discovery, family love, and what it means to be American in our times. The stories in “Fresh Complaint” explore equally rich––and intriguing––territory. Ranging from the bitingly reproductive antics of “Baster” to the dreamy, moving account of a young traveler’s search for enlightenment in “Air Mail” (selected by Annie Proulx for Best American Short Stories), this collection presents characters in the midst of personal and national emergencies. We meet a failed poet who, envious of other people’s wealth during the real-estate bubble, becomes an embezzler; a clavichordist whose dreams of art founder under the obligations of marriage and fatherhood; and, in “Fresh Complaint,” a high school student whose wish to escape the strictures of her immigrant family lead her to a drastic decision that upends the life of a middle-aged British physicist. Narratively compelling, beautifully written, and packed with a density of ideas despite their fluid grace, these stories chart the development and maturation of a major American writer.
Date of Birth:March 8, 1960
Place of Birth:Detroit, Michigan
Education:B.A. in English, Brown University, 1983; M.A. in creative writing/English, Stanford University, 1986
Pulitzer Prize winner Eugenides, whose novels have also been runners-up for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, now comes up with a first collection of stories dealing with sexual confusion, adolescent angst, and identity crisis, as when a poet who feels left out of the financial boom becomes an embezzler.
★ 2017-06-20Kirkus Reviews
Well-off, well-intentioned people find their just-so lives upended, often in curious ways, in this first collection of short stories by Eugenides (The Marriage Plot, 2011, etc.).Two of the stories here are close cousins to Eugenides' novels: "Air Mail" features Mitchell, the lovelorn spiritual seeker in The Marriage Plot, battling a case of dysentery in Thailand, while "The Oracular Vulva" concerns a researcher studying the same intersexual characteristics that stoked the plot of Middlesex (2002). But neither of those stories reads like a lesser dry run for a more serious work, and the collection throughout is marked by a rich wit, an eye for detail, and a sense of the absurd. The plots often involve relationships hitting the skids, as in "Early Music," in which a couple watches their artistic ambitions crash into the brick wall of fiscal responsibility, or "Find the Bad Guy," about a green-card marriage gone awry. (The contents of the narrator's pockets tell a pathetic tale in itself: "loose change, 5-Hour Energy bottle, and an Ashley Madison ad torn from some magazine.") Eugenides enjoys putting his characters into odd predicaments: "Baster" centers on a woman pursuing a pregnancy via the title's kitchen gadget, while the writer who narrates "Great Experiment" contemplates defrauding his wealthy but stingy employer, using de Tocqueville's writings as a rationalization. But Eugenides never holds up his characters for outright mockery, and the two fine new stories that bookend the collection gracefully navigate darker territory: "Complainers" is narrated by a woman confronting her longtime friend's dementia, and "Fresh Complaint" turns on a young Indian-American woman's provocative scheme to escape an arranged marriage. We humans are well-meaning folk, Eugenides means to say, but life tends to force us into bad behavior. Sprightly or serious, Eugenides consistently writes about complex lives with depth and compassion.