A vivid mix of stories that pick up and expand on Eisenberg's (The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg, 2010, etc.) signature concerns.
Eisenberg is among our most interesting writers of short fiction, author of four previous collections that track the dislocation of her characters in ways both large and small. Of the six pieces in this, her first book in 12 years, five appeared in venues such as the Paris Review and the New York Review of Books; one garnered an O. Henry Award. It’s not hard to understand why. Eisenberg’s métier is reticence: Her characters move through a world they find bewildering, with no easy strategy to reach out and connect. In the title story, an artist finds herself at the beach home of a rich couple, in a country that could be Mexico. What looks like paradise, however, is an illusion, a landscape on the verge of chaos from overlapping cycles of drought and flooding and the excesses of the expatriate economy. “So naturally,” Eisenberg writes, “local people who could leave were leaving, and a lot of the foreigners…who had places in the area were pulling up stakes, too.” Place, in other words, exerts a very shallow pull. The same is true of family, which echoes here like a set of lost opportunities, more obligatory than consoling. “Merge” revolves, in part, around the son of a corrupt CEO who liberates himself from his father by forging a $10,000 check. “Cross Off and Move On” looks back at its narrator’s three aunts, although, she acknowledges, “They come to mind not so often. They come to mind only as often as does my mother, whose rancor toward them, my father’s sisters, imbued them with a certain luster and has linked them to her permanently.” Here, we see Eisenberg’s approach to narrative, which is to tell us something both incidental and important and then follow it where it goes. The stories here are long, most more than 30 pages, and they take their time in getting to the point. But that’s OK; in fact, it’s the whole pleasure of reading her, the assurance that there is no quick fix, no easy resolution, that things are as muddy, as complicated on the page as they are in the world. What is never muddy, though, is her writing, which is sharp and pointed and direct. “In our small city,” she writes, “where darkness and cold go on and on and most things smell and taste like lint, I groan with longing.”
These brilliant stories invoke the desire for something other than what you've been given, which applies to us as much as to Eisenberg's characters, whose distracted desperation can’t help, in the end, but reflect our own.