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The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg

by

The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg Cover

ISBN13: 9780312429898
ISBN10: 0312429894
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Excerpt

Margaret Drabbles novels have illuminated the past fifty years, especially the changing lives of women, like no others. Yet her short fiction has its own unique brilliance. Her penetrating evocations of character and place, her wide-ranging curiosity, her sense of ironyall are on display here, in stories that explore marriage, female friendships, the English tourist abroad, love affairs with houses, peace demonstrations, gin and tonics, cultural TV programs; in stories that are perceptive, sharp, and funny. An introduction by the Spanish academic José Fernández places the stories in the context of her life and her novels. This collection is a wonderful recapitulation of a masterly career.

Contents

Introduction ix

Note on the Present Edition xxi

Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1

Hassans Tower 7

A Voyage to Cythera 23

Faithful Lovers 41

A Pyrrhic Victory 53

Crossing the Alps 63

The Gifts of War 85

A Success Story 103

A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman 115

Homework 141

The Merry Widow 151

The Dower House at Kellynch:

A Somerset Romance 169

The Caves of God 193

Stepping Westward:

A Topographical Tale 207

 

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

It was the kind of party at which nobody got introduced.

The room was dark, lit only by candles in bottles,

and although a certain amount of feeble shuffling was going

on in the centre of the floor, most of the guests were grouped

around yelling in a more or less cheery fashion to people

whom they were lucky enough to know already. There was

a lot of noise, both musical and conversational, and the general

tone seemed to Humphrey to be rather high, a kind of

cross between the intellectual and the artistic. He could

hear from time to time words like ‘defence mechanism and

‘Harold Pinter being bandied about above the deafening

body of sound. He supposed, upon reflection, that one might

have expected this kind of thing from his host, a young man

whom he had met in a pub the week before, who had been

most pressing in his invitation, but who had hardly seemed

to recognise Humphrey at all when he had duly arrived,

some time ago. Now, after half an hour of total neglect, he

was beginning to feel rather annoyed. He was in many ways

a conventional young man, and had not the nerve to go and

accost a group of strangers, who anyway seemed to be getting

on quite nicely without him, simply in order to add his

own unoriginal views on Harold Pinter. On the other hand,

he did not really want to leave.

 The situation was made even more annoying by the fact

that everyone looked so interesting. That was why they were

all getting on with each other so splendidly, of course. The

only people who were not shouting or shuffling were extremely

boring-looking people like himself, who were

propped up sadly in dark corners. And the girls, one could

not deny it, were most impressive. He liked artistic and intellectual-

looking girls, himself; he could never see what other

people had against all these fiercely painted eyes, these long

over-exposed legs, these dramatic dresses. They all looked

a little larger and brighter than life, and talked with a more

than natural intensity, and laughed with a more than natural

mirth. He found them most exhilarating. He gazed with

frank admiration at one exotic creature with long pale hair

and a long maroon velvet dress: her legs were not over-exposed

but on the contrary totally enclosed, though she made

up for this modesty elsewhere, displaying to the world a vast

extent of pallid back, where angry pointed shoulder-blades

rose and fell as she gesticulated and discoursed. All he saw

of her was her active back: her face and front were bestowed

upon others.

 Even she, though, had nothing on a girl he could see at

the other side of the room, far away and perched on top of

a book-case, whence she was holding court, and whence she

smiled serenely above the heads of others and above the sea

of smoke. Her slight elevation gave her a look of detached

beauty, and her face had a cool superiority, as of one who

inhabits a finer air. She too was surrounded, naturally, by

hordes of friends and admirers, who were plying her with

chat and cigarettes, and constantly refilling her glass. And

she too, like the pale girl, had long hair, though hers, as far

as he could distinguish, was not pale, but of a dark and fiery

red. He decided that he would cross the room and distinguish

a little more closely.

 This decision was sooner made than executed. It was remarkably

hard to cross the room: instead of parting to let

him pass, people seemed to cluster closer together at his approach,

so that he had to force them asunder with his bare

hands. They did not seem to object to this rough usage, but

continued to ignore him altogether, and managed to talk uninterruptedly

as though he simply were not there, as though

he were not standing on the foot of one and sticking his elbow

into anothers chest at all. He steered his course by taking

the face of the red-haired girl as his beacon, shining dimly

for him above the raging social waters, and finally, a little battered,

he reached her vicinity. When he got there, he found

that his luck was in: by squeezing himself into a small gap

between the book-case and a table, he could get very close

to her indeed, though he was of course directly behind her,

with no view of her face at all, and with his head on a level

with her waist. Still, he was near, and that was something; so

near that he could have stroked with ease her long descending

hair. Not that there would have been any future in such a

gesture. In an atmosphere like that she would not even have

noticed. In fact, now he had got there, it struck him that

there was not much future in anything, that this was really as

far as he was likely to get. He had given up hope that somebody

would come along with those oft-scorned but now desired

words, ‘Hello, Humphrey old chap, let me introduce

you to a few people. This lot were clearly far too avantgarde

for a bourgeois convention like introduction. He wondered

how they had all got to know each other in the first

place. What was one supposed to do? Surely one couldnt go

up to someone and say, ‘Hello, Im Humphrey, who are you?

It seemed, apart from anything else, a positive invitation to

rudeness.

 The red-haired girl seemed to be called Justina. The

name suited her, he thought: there was something finely dramatic

and vital about it, and yet at the same time something

superior. As well as remarkable hair and a remarkable face,

she was the lucky (and conscious) possessor of a remarkable

voice, which she was not at all afraid of using. From where he

was standing, directly behind her, he could hear every word

she uttered, so deep and clear and vibrant were her tones.

She seemed to be fond of brave abstract assertions like,

 ‘Well, in my opinion, the abstract is a total bore, anyway.

I like things that happen, I dont like talk, I think that action is

the only true test, myself.

 He was so entranced that he was content to listen to this

kind of thing for a few minutes, but then he began to get a

little restless, for, like Justina, he preferred action to talk,

especially when the talk in question wasnt directed to him.

He began to think of imaginary witty replies, things that he

might have said had he not been such a non-participant. He

even thought at one point that he might say one of them,

loudly, just to see if Justina and her admirers would turn

round, but by the time he had summoned up the courage

the remark was no longer appropriate, and he had to start

thinking up a new one. Then he wondered what would happen

if he really took action, and pushed her offthe bookcase.

That would make them notice his existence, at least.

She might even like it. Or perhaps he might just grab her

from behind and shout gaily ‘Hello, let me introduce myself,

Im Humphrey. And then again, he thought, perhaps not.

 Sadly, for the twentieth time that evening, he reached

for a consolatory cigarette and put it in his mouth, the miserable

last of a miserable pack. And he didnt seem likely

to get offered any more, either. When Ive finished this, he

said to himself, Ill go home. Then, reaching for a match,

he found he had lost his box: for some reason the eternal

introduction of ‘Have you got a light never even crossed his

mind, occupied as it was on far more desperate levels, and

he reached to the table behind him for one of those candles

in bottles that served as illumination and decoration to the

whole dreary scene. He lit his cigarette and stood there, candle

and bottle in hand, staring gloomily into the small wavering

flame. Thoughts of dramatic calls for attention continued

to flow before him: what about that chap he had once known

who had put a cigarette out on the back of his hand because

some girl said he was a physical coward? He had been drunk

at the time, of course, and it had left a horrible scar, but

the girl had been most impressed: indeed she had screamed

loudly and burst into tears. Humphrey reflected glumly that

he could have put out all twenty of his cigarettes all over his

person and nobody would have batted an eye-lid. One had to

be introduced first, before one could embark on that kind of

thing. One had to have an audience.

 When it happened, it happened so suddenly that he never

quite knew whether it was inspiration or accident. As he did

it, he did not quite know what he expected to happen: clearly

he could not have hoped that she would go up in a sheet of

flame, nor even that she should sustain any injury, however

mild, for he was a kind and unmalicious person. She did not

go up in flame, anyway: hair is not a particularly flammable

substance, not even long flowing fiery-red hanks of it, and

he did not apply the candle with much violence. But it did

singe and scorch, with a most alarming and dangerous smell,

strong enough to cause a great commotion.

 ‘Good Lord, Justina, said one of her admirers, ‘youre

on fire! and he only just had time to put the candle down before

she twisted round to clutch at the singed ends, shrieking

with dismay and delight, and lost her balance and fell into his

arms.

 ‘You did it, she said, challengingly, from a breath-taking

proximity. ‘You did it, you set me alight.

 And he, reading in her face nothing but pleasure at having

created so large a disturbance, held on to her tight and said:

 ‘Let me introduce myself, my name is Humphrey.

  ‘What did you do it for? she cried, in a positive blaze of

admiration, the kind of excitement kindled by duels or the

Rape of the Sabine Women or indeed any violent and decisive

action taken in the cause of passion.

 ‘Oh well, he said, with nonchalant pride, as though

such inspirations came to him every day of the week, ‘I just

wanted to attract your attention, thats all.

(1964)

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

sturtell, August 30, 2012 (view all comments by sturtell)
Deborah Eisenberg is one of my favorite writers--she deserves every prize she's ever won. On a side note--am I the only person who's noticed that the book description names Margaret Drabble instead of Eisenberg? It's as if the writer had no idea who wrote these magical stories.
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rcmark, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by rcmark)
I think this was the best book of 2010.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780312429898
Author:
Eisenberg, Deborah
Publisher:
Picador USA
Subject:
Short Stories (single author)
Subject:
Stories (single author)
Subject:
Short stories
Subject:
Short stories, American
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
20100331
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
992
Dimensions:
8 x 5 in

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The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg New Trade Paper
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Product details 992 pages Picador USA - English 9780312429898 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , From one of America's finest writers ("San Francisco Chronicle") comes this volume that brings together "Transactions in a Foreign Currency, Under the 82nd Airborne, All Around Atlantis," and Eisenberg's most recent collection, "Twilight of the Superheroes."
"Synopsis" by ,

“One of Americas finest writers.”—San Francisco Chronicle    “Concentrated bursts of perfection.”—The Times (London)    “Shimmering stories that possess the power and charm to move us.” —The New York Times    “Exhilarating.”—Harpers Magazine    “Outstanding.”—Christian Science Monitor    “Eisenberg simply writes like no one else.”—Elle    “Eisenbergs stories possess all the steely beauty of a knife wrapped in velvet.”—The Boston Globe    “Dazzling.”—Time Out New York    “Magic.”—Newsweek    “Comic, elegant and pitch perfect.”—Vanity Fair    “One of the great fiction writers living in America today.”—The Dallas Morning News    “There arent many contemporary novels as shudderingly intimate and mordantly funny as Eisenbergs best stories.”—The New York Times Book Review

 

Since 1986 with the publication of her first story collection, Deborah Eisenberg has devoted herself to writing “exquisitely distilled stories” which “present an unusually distinctive portrait of contemporary American life” to quote the MacArthur Foundation. This one volume brings together Transactions in a Foreign Currency (1986), Under the 82nd Airborne (1992), All Around Atlantis (1997) and her most recent collection-Twilight of the Superheroes (2006).

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