This post is part of an week-long mini-series celebrating National Short Story Month, continuing with The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg.
It’s difficult to think how very many people now know who Deborah Eisenberg is from a cameo appearance last month on Gossip Girl, but have likely never read one of her stories. Their souls are poorer for it.
Deborah Eisenberg is in a very small group of artists whose work does things that no one else’s does. She writes short stories—only short stories—and when we collected all 27 of them (written over a 30 year period) in one volume in 2010 it was awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Her stories are quite long, often 25-40 pages, and in them she packs all the characters and incident of an entire novel. One is half-tempted to ask: who needs novels with short stories like these?
One of my favorites is “Transactions in a Foreign Currency,” and its opening is one of my favorite paragraphs in literature:
“I had lit a fire in my fireplace, and I’d poured out two coffees and two brandies, and I was settling down on the sofa next to a man who had taken me out to dinner when Ivan called after more than six months. I turned with the receiver to the wall as I absorbed the fact of Ivan’s voice, and when I glanced back at the man on my sofa, he seemed like a scrap of paper, or the handle from a broken cup, or a single rubber band—a thing that has become dislodged from its rightful place and intrudes on one’s consciousness two or three or many times before one understands that it is just a thing best thrown away.”
The story concerns Clarence, a shiftless and fairly useless white guy, adrift in Africa.