It seems a shame to end the year on such a middling short story collection.
Jeffrey Eugenides wrote one of my all-time favourite novels with 2002’s Middlesex: an epic, multi-generational family drama that was equal parts personal and grand. It’s a book I continue to recommend – and buy for people – to this day.
Since then, Euginides has given us only two more books: 2011’s Marriage Plot, a decent but largely unmemorable novel that lacked the scope and depth of Middlesex, and now Fresh Complaint.
Maybe if Eugenides was more prolific I wouldn’t feel so disappointed by each new release. But when there’s a five to 10 year wait between drinks, one cannot but hope for more.
What’s here – 10 stories published over the last 30 years – is inconsistent and uneven. And there are some real howlers, like “Baster” – a strangely sexist tale about a woman who seeks out artificial insemination after failing to find the right man.
Indeed, gender and sex infuse many of these tales, which is not surprising from the author of Middlesex; what is surprising is that these stories have none of the sensitivity or pathos of Eugenides’ lauded longer work. They feel as if they come from a different – and far less talented – writer.
The stories about politics – like “The Great Experiment” – are perhaps the weakest. The title story, which rounds out the collection – about an ageing married man tempted into a liaison with a student with a hidden agenda – is one of the better offerings, but even there we feel like we’re getting a pale shadow of the author responsible for the majesty of Middlesex.