cover image Fresh Complaint

Fresh Complaint

Jeffrey Eugenides. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-20306-1

Best known for the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel Middlesex, Eugenides here collects the stories he has been steadily producing through the years. The earliest story, “Capricious Gardens,” originates from Eugenides’s M.F.A. thesis. In it, two American backpackers spend the night at the home of a recently divorced Irishman. Its plot (the host desires one of the travelers, but her companion has other plans) is of less importance than the structural experimentation. In the humorous “The Oracular Vulva,” “the famous sexologist” Dr. Peter Luce (also featured in Middlesex) makes one last, uncomfortable attempt to salvage his theory of intersexuality and his prestige by journeying into a remote jungle village to do field work. “Airmail” is an epistolary account of a young man’s journey towards enlightenment—and gastric peace—in India. “Baster” is a tale of a woman taking her fertility into her own hands with a marvelous O. Henry ending. The title story is an adroit and moving exploration of an Indian-American teenager’s desperate attempts to avoid an arranged marriage. “The Great Experiment” is the collection’s highlight: working for a small press called Great Experiment—run by Jimmy Boyko, an elderly former pornographer turned free speech advocate—Kendall spends his days collecting quotes from de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America for a slim volume to be entitled The Pocket Democracy. When Jimmy’s accountant tells Kendall over drinks, “If you and I weren’t so honest we could make a lot of money” by embezzling from Jimmy’s publishing venture, Kendall must weigh the price of his integrity against taking his slice of the American Dream. The collection is uneven, but even the weakest story is never boring, and Eugenides’s prodigious abilities are showcased throughout. (Oct.)