Title: Fresh Complaint
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Pub Date: October 2017
My Rating: ★★★☆☆
View on Goodreads
Synopsis from Goodreads:
The first collection of short fiction from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides
Jeffrey Eugenides’s bestselling novels have shown that he is an astute observer of the crises of adolescence, sexual identity, self-discovery, family love, and what it means to be an American in our times. The stories in Fresh Complaint continue that tradition. Ranging from the reproductive antics of ‘Baster’ to the wry, moving account of a young traveler’s search for enlightenment in ‘Air Mail’ (selected by Annie Proulx for The Best American Short Stories, 1997), this collection presents characters in the midst of personal and national crises. We meet a failed poet who, envious of other people’s wealth during the real-estate bubble, becomes an embezzler; a clavichordist whose dreams of art collapse under the obligations of marriage and fatherhood; and, in ‘Bronze,’ a sexually confused college freshman whose encounter with a stranger on a train leads to a revelation about his past and his future. Narratively compelling, beautifully written, and packed with a density of ideas that belie their fluid grace, Fresh Complaint proves Eugenides to be a master of the short form as well as the long.
Reviews for collections of short stories are always hard to write. Should I judge the book as a whole or should I review each separate short story? Writing a short review of each story seems like a too much effort, but I believe that all those stories deserve their own judgement.
Overall those stories are about the things that Eugenides wrote beautiful novels before – about marriage and its various pitfalls, he brings a new story about intersexuality. All of the stories touch on serious and complex topics. What I love the most is that all of the characters are well-developed, they are not shadows of characters that could be properly developed only in a novel. No, they are all fully formed and seem real. I could understand them and their behaviour well. I’m amazed how well written and detailed those short stories are.
In the opening story “Complainers” a woman is struggling with accepting her friend’s dementia and looks for a better life for her reminiscing on how their friendship began and how book Two Old Women impacted their friendship. Closing story is “Fresh Complaint” that with the opening one was my favourite. How “Complainers” was hopeful and somehow happy in the tone, then “Fresh Complaint” was sad and infuriating. Indian-American woman creates a provocative plot to escape the possibility of arranged marriage. “The Oracular Vulva” with researcher famous for his gender studies brings back the topic of intersexuality that the author explored in Middlesex. “Early Music”, “Find The Bad Guy” gives us two self-absorbed and quite pitiful male characters, in first a musician battling with responsibilities of adult life and in the second man battling with separation from his wife. There are some weaker stories, that didn’t do much for me, like “Air Mail”, “Baster” and “Timeshare”.
What bothers me is how some feelings towards women are presented in the book. Most of the stories have a male character in the centre, and in many of them, I felt some kind of hatred towards women. I cannot fully pinpoint it, but female characters somehow less, and the male characters blamed them for their problems in a way that disturbed me. Like I said, it was not overwhelming feeling, just something that was slightly poking back of my brain. Did anyone else have this feeling? Maybe you’ll be able to better articulate what was going on.
Have you read any book by Jeffrey Eugenides? What do you think about his books? Do you like short stories collections?