The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg
The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg is a thick, 980-odd page collection of longish short stories which houses a cosmos of diverse characters and human situations. The short stories are compiled from Deborah Eisenberg’s previous four collections of stories: Transactions in a Foreign Currency; Under the 82nd Airborne; All Around Atlantis; and Twilight of the Superheroes.
Eisenberg’s stories encompass the spectrum of the human population and circumstances, from bewildered insecure women to young men lusting after young girls to children being melodramatic next to dying grandmothers. The stories are similar in that they are often written in the first person in a female voice, and the stories are just scenes from life, with no plot or resolution to the episode–simply a snapshot of life, with tight, clear observations translated into beautiful images.
In “The Custodian,” Isobel and Lynnie are two women who have left and returned to the town in which they grew up. In conversation, one mentions Ross and Claire, the couple they babysat for years ago. In flashbacks, the true story of the relationship between the girls and Ross is revealed in a quiet, eerie understatement, through observations and actions:
A car door slams, and Lynnie gets up to look out of the window – maybe Isobel
is going somewhere and will want company.
In “What it was like, Seeing Chris,” a young girl struggles with losing her vision and being able to see (both literally and metaphorically) Chris and follow through with their attraction to one another: he is already a man, and she is still in high school. Eisenberg effectively creates a situation that appears hopeless, yet her character is inspiring in that she is without self-pity. Eisenberg’s language and imagery of Laurel’s fading vision is also remarkably vivid:
But it is not Isobel. It is Ross. Lynnie watches ar Ross goes up Isobel’s front walk
and knocks on the door. The sound of brass on brass echoes up to Lynnie’s room.
Isobel’s car is in the driveway, but her mother’s and father’s are gone. Lynnie
Watches as Isobel appears at the front door and lets Ross in, and then as dim shapes
spread in Isobel’s room.
I was out on the street before I realized that I still couldn’t see. My vision
was like a piece of loosely woven cloth that was pulling apart. In the street
everything seemed to be moving off, and all the lights looked like huge haloed
globes, bobbing and then dipping suddenly into the pocketed air.
In “Revenge of the Dinosaur,” granddaughter Lulu comes to visit her Nana as she lays in a semi-conscious state on her deathbed. She looks back on grandmother’s life, how amazing she was and strong. When her brother, Bill, arrives with his family, and looks “stricken,” Lulu wonders:
I can’t ever quite wrap my head around it – that life is amazingly abundant, no matter
what, and every moment of experience is so intense. But so little evidence of that exists
outside the living body! Billions of intense, abundant human lives on this earth, Nana’s
among them, vanishing. Leaving nothing more than inscrutable little piles of commemorative
Instead of a empathic response worthy of the sensitive, deep emotion that Lulu credited him with, Bill retorts “Do you know how much this sort of private care costs?” The story continues with frightening but comedic situations of Bill, his wife and their daughter changing television channels and bickering as scenes of gallivanting teens or political strife play on the television and Lulu’s grandmother lies on her bed.
I could see that Bill was suffering from those thoughts too.
Eisenberg’s range of characters and the nuances of their actions, their thoughts and observations in their various life situations are brilliantly captured. Many of these stories reveal the despair and malaise, discontentment or a soon-to-be-destroyed happiness in life, which makes a fascinating, albeit a sometimes overwhelming or heavy read at times.
The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg is an absorbing, sometimes heavy, but always intriguing observation of human beings and circumstances, dissected with amazing detail and a beautifully understated manner.
Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Maya Fleischmann, 2012