Tuesday April 20th, 2010

The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg

eisenbergEisenberg has published four collections of highly praised stories over the course of 25 years. They’re all here, in a book that reaches nearly a thousand pages. John Freeman, among others, doesn’t think there can be too many pages: “I dove into this fat, wonderful collection like a man in a hot dog eating contest. No one writes the kind of strange, deeply intuitive short story that Eisenberg writes.”

Jean Thompson, another fine practitioner of the short-story form, writes: “No one would presume to tell any of Eisenberg’s people to have a nice day. They seldom achieve as much as a good mood. They are as acutely self-conscious as they are outwardly inarticulate. Other more assertive and outlandish personalities overwhelm them; the world’s appalling circumstances rightly appall them. Eisenberg conveys their interiority in such a fine grain that one thinks of Virginia Woolf, if only Woolf’s work were leavened with startling humor.”

Freeman marvels at how those characters manage to stay in the reader’s good graces: “Eisenberg is America’s poet laureate of neuroses . . . If many of the people in this book were in my life I’d want to shake them heartily. Or I’d spend several months attaching jumper cables to my chest, hoping to save them. Here on the page, though, they are deeply lovable, so keenly presented it’s hard not to wish for their safe passage with all the force one develops while reading a novel.”

Wendy Lesser has always thought Eisenberg’s stories are so good that it would be crazy to ask her for a novel, but reading the stories together, in order, she finds a way to see them as having “certain novelistic qualities—including, among other things, an overarching plot and personalities that develop over time.”

The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg
Picador, 992 pp., $22.00