Synopses & Reviews
Small masterpieces...(a) dazzling collection....Like Alice Munro, virtually her only equal in the field, Deborah Eisenberg here seems incapable of writing a bad short story...She focuses on misfits, people who don't feel at home in the world. So skilled is she at developing these characters as engagingly "ordinary" that we find ourselves identifying with them without realizing how we got there....Eisenberg's writing at times approaches the beauty of a line of poetry. She manipulates her readers with a master's blend of humor and poignancy. Her stories are wondrous....
-- David Wiegand, "San Francisco Chronicle"
"In her third collection of stories, Eisenberg renders seven distinct scenarios—though not literally nightmares (an uptight boarding school, a contentious family vacation, a concert pianist amidst a political revolution etc.)—all are nightmarish enough in that her characters must negotiate through their personal hells; resentment, embarrassment, contempt, fear, disgust, confusion. Here is the ultra-negative side of sophisticated urban lives at the end of our century. In the first story, we find that the 'undiminished vigor of [Francie's] mother's resentment toward absolutely everything was warming, in its way— there must have been love to produce all that hatred.' In lyrical and gleaming prose, the author explores and reveals adult hypocrisy and folly." Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
Jim ShepardThe New York Times Book ReviewThese stories are spirited and masterly road maps through sad and forbidding and desolate terrain.
Eisenberg writes like a dream, both figuratively and literally.
Gail CaldwellBoston Sunday GlobeEisenberg's finest work bears the evidence of a consciousness beholden to no clock other than the rhythms of experience. The dialogue ... is crisp and revelatory, while the texture of the stories -- which range in setting from Latin America to the inside of a little girl's afternoon -- is often perilously, gloriously thick....Eisenberg's stories are deceptively tough: built to last, rather than mere gauzy or ephemeral glimpses of a moment.
Entertainment WeeklyExotic safaris into the deepest, darkest emotional landscapes....[Eisenberg is a] short-story wizard.
BooklistEisenberg's short stories are fresh and sure....A spectacular set of diverse new works is presented here....Whatever the setting, Eisenberg perfectly andinstructively captures the baffling simultaneity of each moment -- theindifference of sunlight, the presentiment of a misheard word -- and our minds' stubborn preoccupation with the spin and crash of thoughts.
R.Z. SheppardTimeEisenberg writes like a dream, both figuratively and literally.
A messenger arrives to conduct a boarding school girl into an utterly unexpected future...a well-meaning college student realizes that he is a voyeur...suburban schoolchildren try to navigate through the "acceptable level" of adult pollution around them. In lyrical and gleaming prose, Eisenberg pries open daily life to explore the hidden mechanisms of human behavior.
About the Author
Deborah Eisenberg, a recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, a Whiting Writer's Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, is the author of two earlier collections, compiled together in The Stories (So Far) of Deborah Eisenberg. She lives in New York City and teaches at the University of Virginia.
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
- In "Across the Lake," Rob notices that "humanity everywhere was at ease with the barbarism of his [American] countryfellows." Identify characters in the other stories who are at ease with humankind's cruelty and those who are uncomfortable with it.
- Who are the mermaids in "Mermaids?" Why?
- In "Someone to Talk To," Shapiro finds himself becoming an unwitting accomplice with a brutal, oppressive government. Discuss how the girls in "Mermaids" and Rob in "Across the Lake" also become unwitting participants in troubling situations not of their own making. How do the characters' various ages insulate and protect them or confer responsibility?
- Do you find Rob's "untested integrity" and "convenient innocence" appealing or appalling? Why?
- Beale in "Someone to Talk To" and the Jean in "Tlaloc's Paradise" both seem as if they will never return to England or the United States. What holds them in their adopted countries?
- In "All Around Atlantis," Anna's European heritage is as lost to her as the lost continent of Atlantis. Compare Anna's irretrievable past with Francie's in "The Girl Who Left Her Sock on the Floor" and Rosie's in "Rosie Gets a Soul."
- Why does Anna address her thoughts to Peter?
- Discuss how the author's notion of a soul is tied to time and memory in "Rosie Gets a Soul."
- Discuss Eisenberg's use of blood as a motif, such as the blood oozing through a meat package in "Rosie Gets a Soul" or the "bloody lump" of meat on Anna's plate in "All Around Atlantis." What effect does the author achieve?
- In the final story of the collection, the narrator comes to believe that we are all involved in everything that ever happened. Do characters in any of the other stories come to similar realizations?