Post-September 11th depression, mental illness and a woman’s flight from an abusive relationship are just some of the topics author Deborah Eisenberg tackles in her beautifully written collection of short stories Twilight of the Superheroes. Though none of the stories will bring a smile to your face, they will touch you in a way few stories (or novels, for that matter) can and, whether you like the characters or not, you’ll have no choice but to stop and marvel at Eisenberg’s amazing control of the English language.
“Twilight of the Superheroes,” the lead story the collection is named for, is a thought-provoking and complex story of a group of young professionals who are offered the amazing opportunity of sub-letting a gorgeous loft while the owner is out of the country on business. Their luck isn’t what they think, however, as the loft is across from the World Trade Center—and the date is creeping close to September 11th. Probably the strongest of the stories, Twilight has some phrases that will simply take your breath away with their beauty and honesty. The story is as complicated, unique and deep as it is powerful and you’ll probably have to read it more than once to grasp its full meaning.
The genius of this first story is tempered by other, not quite as amazing tales such as “Revenge of the Dinosaurs,” about a young woman who travels to see her dying grandmother. At once a meditation on growing old and dying as well as a glimpse into a fractured family, “Dinosaurs” is not quite as touching as “Twilight,” but it still has power and Eisenberg’s unmistakable way with language is as evident here as it is in the rest of the stories. Even Eisenberg’s worst story in the collection is better than most authors’ most accomplished work.
In the middle of the road are stories like “The Flaw in the Design,” a tale of a family that never quite recovered from their time spent in a variety of third-world countries. Eisenberg’s interest in broken and breaking families is evident in nearly all of her stories. The way she has her characters interact is at once familiar and surreal to the reader, helping them recall similar exchanges with their own family and making them almost personal, while at the same time fascinating and strange.
All six of the stories in the collection deal with heavy subject matter and there is little to no humor or levity to be found. In addition, readers will most likely find it difficult to develop a liking for any of Eisenberg’s profoundly hurting and confused characters. However, if what you’re looking for are stories that will make you think, that will stick with you for days after you’ve read them and that will amaze you with their sheer power, you should definitely pick up Twilight of the Superheroes. You will be hard pressed to find another author of short stories who can write as well as, or even in the same league as, Deborah Eisenberg.