BINGE READ

FRESH COM­PLAINT, BY JEF­FREY EUGENIDES, IS A SHORT STORY COL­LEC­TION COM­PRIS­ING OF 10 VERY EN­TER­TAIN­ING TALES

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Books - by Lucy Sc­holes

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.

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