Fresh Complaint: Stories - Jeffrey Eugenides
If these wide-ranging stories have a theme, it’s disillusionment. The characters have been let down by marriage, art, and the American Dream (which itself has suffered some damage). Searching for enlightenment, a young American man travels through India and Thailand; is that ringing in his ears a sign of transcendence or a symptom of dysentery? An Indian-American teenager pulls off an elaborate trick to avoid an arranged marriage—but loses the freedom she sought. Economic pressures cause an aspiring musician to choose between his family and his clavichord, while a poet resorts to embezzling to stay afloat. In Fresh Complaint (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27), Jeffrey Eugenides’s first collection of short fiction, written between 1988 and 2017, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Middlesex traces the complicated downward path of high expectations and shows how ideals and even principles are warped by economic realities, time, and the weaknesses of the human body. These stories face some of the worst life has to offer ( “Dementia… sounds violent, invasive, like having a demon scooping out pieces of your brain”) and challenge the demons with compassion, intelligence, and many moments of sheer lyrical brilliance.