FRESH COMPLAINT, BY JEFFREY EUGENIDES, IS A SHORT STORY COLLECTION COMPRISING OF 10 VERY ENTERTAINING TALES
Although we’re not lucky enough to be treated to a new Jeffrey Eugenides novel quite yet — they only come along once a decade and it’s just six years since his last, The Marriage Plot — he has provided us with a short story collection (his first) to tide us over in the meantime.
The collection comprises 10 tales that span the breadth of his career. The earliest, the Irelandset Capricious Gardens, was written back to 1988 (that’s five years before he published his debut, The Virgin Suicides); while those that bookend the collection, Complainers and Fresh Complaint, are new, dated this year. It is overall a welcome reminder of both the potential excellence to come and the joys of Eugenides’s previous achievements.
Fans of his novels will recognise a couple of the characters herein. In Air Mail, The Marriage Plot’s Mitchell Grammaticus, a young American student, is struck down with amoebic dysentery while searching for enlightenment on a remote Thai island. Meanwhile, Dr Peter Luce, the sexologist from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex, takes centre stage in The Oracular Vulva — a tale that resonates with echoes of Hanya Yanagihara’s unsettling first novel The People in the.
It’s a theme that resurfaces again in the final story — that from which the collection takes its title — in which Matthew, an academic who’s married and the father of two, has no idea that the supposedly spontaneous tryst between him and a (much) younger, beautiful student is actually a carefully planned seduction by a girl looking for a way out of the arranged marriage her Indian parents have planned for her.
Although admittedly there’s nothing in Fresh Complaint to rival the fineness of his novels — they undoubtedly remain Eugenides’s uncontested superior form — there is much to enjoy and admire; notably the fact there’s not a dud in the collection, an achievement that’s harder to pull off than it might seem.