On Eisenberg’s stories, and her Bakelite heart

My appreciation of Deborah Eisenberg’s Collected Stories — which explore “people’s most complex and secret feelings, ‘mental states … that are just on the border of expressible'” — is up at NPR. An excerpt:

In an early story, “What it Was Like, Seeing Chris,” a teenager who’s “pale and long” like her little sister but believes she lacks the younger girl’s beauty is afraid to ask the ophthalmologist she visits each week in Manhattan whether she’s going blind. Tired of disappointing her parents and bored by her friends, she begins stopping in at a bar after her eye appointments and meets a golden-faced 27-year-old man whose smiling solicitude causes her to “notice that I was always lonely in my life.” Although he warns her that “there are a lot of strange things about me … I’m really crazy about you, but I can’t ask you to see me,” she arranges to stay at his house.

Afterward, she contemplates, as Eisenberg’s characters often do, the confusing nature of existence, the seeming randomness of events and their paradoxical inevitability: “every moment is all the things that are going to happen, and every moment is just the way all those things look on their way along a line.”

You can hear her discuss the collection on Leonard Lopate, and don’t miss Jean Thompson’s review, or Eisenberg’s 2007 conversation with Christopher Frizzelle, in which she jokes that “beneath this sort of warm and even ardent exterior beats a heart of pure Bakelite.”


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