JUST BEING HUMAN
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