When Jesse Eisenberg's first book, Bream Gives Me Hiccups (Grove/Atlantic), is published in September, the Oscar-nominated actor might pick up as many fans for his edgy comedic writing as he already has for his work in the acclaimed films and plays he's appeared in.
Eisenberg, 31, first became a familiar name when he starred in The Social Network, the 2010 hit film about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Yet he is not new to the literary world. At around the same time, Dave Eggers began publishing Eisenberg's work in his McSweeney's literary quarterly. Since then, several of his short stories have been featured there, as well as in the New Yorker, and no matter how busy Eisenberg might be with acting work he is equally dedicated to his writing. "There's more of an overlap between the two than might be apparent," Eisenberg says during a break from rehearsals for his latest play, The Spoils, which he wrote and is also directing in New York City (previews start May 5, and it opens on June 2). "I've been trained to think about people from the inside out, and even though my writing is focused on emotional turmoil, my sole goal is to try to be funny. I hope the longer pieces in the book reflect the comedic struggle of good people behaving badly."
Bream Gives Me Hiccups is a collection of short stories and essays that are both hilarious and thought provoking, grounded in his quick wit and astute observations of people and families. The opening stories are told in the voice of a nine-year-old boy who accompanies his neurotic mother to dinner in various restaurants and then rates them when they get home. "We went to a place called Organix," Eisenberg writes in one piece, "and it is an organic and vegan restaurant, which is kind of like going to the doctor for dinner. I'm giving it 162 out of 2,000 stars." Broken families and narcissistic sisters feature in other stories, all of which show Eisenberg's penchant for illuminating the best and the worst in people, but always with kindness. Asked if he finds himself laughing out loud while writing a funny piece, he replies, "Not really. Mostly I just face the computer with an intense, discouraged stare, but I suppose humor is the priority, at least nominally. "
So sophisticated and droll is Eisenberg's writing that it's surprising to learn he didn't begin reading the New Yorker until the last few years. "I never knew my style until I read the ‘Shouts & Murmurs' column in the magazine," he says. "I didn't know writing could be that way." Now he is published there on a regular basis, and counts among his friends such New Yorker writers as Simon Rich, George Sanders, and Teddy Wayne, who also serve as literary inspirations to him.
As he joins the ranks of published authors, Eisenberg places himself in a dual position. "I see myself in the book business as both an interloper and a member of the club," he notes wryly. "In fact, I have more friends in the book business than in acting." Once Bream Gives Me Hiccups is released, that circle of friends could grow exponentially.
New and old friends can meet Eisenberg today at 11 a.m. in the autographing area at Table 2.
This article appeared in the May 28, 2015 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.