India Today - - LEISURE - —Deep­an­jana Pal

In the ti­tle story of Jef­frey Eu­genides’ crack­ling col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, Fresh Com­plaint, an In­dian ori­gin teenager ac­cuses an Amer­i­can pro­fes­sor of rape. The timely tale of sex­ual mis­con­duct—with unan­swered ques­tions and a dash of what some will call misog­yny—is never sim­plis­tic. But that’s a hall­mark of the au­thor best known for his Pulitzer Prize-win­ning novel Mid­dle­sex (2002).

Writ­ten be­tween 1988 and 2017, Fresh Com­plaint is Eu­genides’ first pub­lished col­lec­tion of short sto­ries. Each story de­picts strivers pur­su­ing dif­fer­ent Amer­i­can dreams as their lives un­spool be­cause of forces be­yond con­trol. Most char­ac­ters dream of money—or “a mil­lion dol­lars”, a sum re­peated with al­most fetishis­tic frenzy in story af­ter story. Also run­ning along are themes of friend­ship, cur­dling of ro­mance in a mar­riage and per­for­mance of mas­culin­ity.

Grave as the is­sues may be, Eu­genides is a mas­ter of weav­ing in hu­mour. Who can re­sist a story ti­tled “The Orac­u­lar Vulva”, a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of which is con­cerned with a pro­fes­sor des­per­ately try­ing to pro­tect his mod­esty and virtue? Or “Baster”, in which the cook­ing uten­sil used to drip gravy on meat is the im­ple­ment of choice for a sin­gle woman who wants to get preg­nant?

Like Eu­genides’ hugely suc­cess­ful nov­els, The Vir­gin Suicides and Mid­dle­sex, Fresh Com­plaint hinges on slip­pery char­ac­ters who are nei­ther good nor bad, only painfully and hi­lar­i­ously hu­man. Us­ing their minia­ture lives, full of lit­tle de­sires, me­diocre hopes and big dis­ap­point­ments, he paints a land­scape of greed, ego and dis­il­lu­sion­ment that may be set in Amer­ica, but res­onates ev­ery­where.

The col­lec­tion hinges on char­ac­ters nei­ther good nor bad, only hi­lar­i­ously hu­man

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