February 28, 2006


Steven Augustine

If the excerpt from 'Twilight of the Superheroes' isn't representative they shouldn't have printed it. But if it is...it makes me miss Thom Jones, whose much-hyped debut was almost slightly justified, if only on a story-by-story basis. And at least Harold Brodkey had that voice of his, as off-putting as it could be, and a large-ish body of work...he deserved his (mostly European) over-estimations by dint of sheer balls. But the excerpt from Eisenberg's book doesn't make me want to run out and buy it and the hype doesn't do her any favors. Well, there are probably harder ways to get attention as a writer than sleeping with Wallace Shawn for thirty years...I guess...


First. let me claim that pound for pound Thom McGuane's forthcoming shortstory collection , Gallatin Canyon, is the best I've read in 3 or 4 years—over hyped, photogenic, young New Yorkcentric writers not withstanding .

Second, short stories are the mother lode of fiction,

And finally, why, if they are so unprofitable, do I have so many collections on my shelves—meaning, they keep getting published (in clothe editions yet)? And, as readers/consumers why should we care about the economics of literature?

S. Forrester

Steven Augustine's comment is patently unfair, and if he is basing his judgement on a short quotation in a NYT article, rather than actually troubling to read a few of Eisenberg's stories, he should back off. Deborah Eisenberg has written some of the most complex,nuanced, and original short stories that have been published in the last twenty-five years.

Having said that, I was deeply disappointed in the title story of the new collection, which I read elsewhere (and possibly in an earlier version), and thought was by far the weakest and most banal story I'd ever read by Eisenberg. I have high expectations, though, for the rest of the collection, and trust that the title story represents a rare mistep.

Steven Augustine

Well I DID qualify my statement with an 'if'...if the excerpt I read is representative of her work in general, her work doesn't excite me, because what I read was no improvement on the stuff I already treasure (Munro, Pritchett, O'Connor, Bowles, Brodkey)...but my opinion is no doubt a partial reaction to the hype, on which I am terribly burned-out. I work in entertainment and I know how you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours it is and I suppose I just long for the days when Criticism wasn't puffery and critics delivered considered opinions and meted out gushing praise so sparingly that it meant something. In a five year period during which I've 'heard' every flavor of unremarkable writer touted as Lit Messiah, I forgive myself my perhaps-unfairly jaundiced view of an excerpt that failed to impress on just about every level. Not that I wouldn't mind reading more of it while waiting to get a cavity filled...


In my opinion, Eisenberg is a far more interesting writer than the good but rather conventional Munro. And to which Bowles are you referring, the rather traditional Paul or the outrageous and underrated Jane?

It just infuriates me that you infer (rather sexistly I might add and based on complete ignorance of her work) that the praise Eisenberg is receiving is undeserved when she has been publishing fabulous stories for more than 25 years and flying more or less under the radar all that time.

Steven Augustine

Well, you see, I'm not a Critic to shake one's fist at, I'm a consumer reporting his honest opinion about a product that failed to excite me; in my case, that excerpt didn't work. Na und? And I'd have to say that my remark could only be parsed as sexist if I'd failed to make the same quip about sleeping arrangements if it were Shawn's excerpt I wasn't loving as opposed to Eisenberg's. Making a snide remark about a human who happens to be female doesn't make one sexist by default, you know. One thing I'm beginning to notice is the absolute fury people seem to go into these days when any opinion that doesn't swim along with some kind of cozy consensus is offered. And I don't suppose I need to point out that the fact that I won't go into a foamy blather over your dismissal of Munro as 'conventional' probably means I'm more secure in my opinions. If you can agree not to care about my opinion about Eisenberg's excerpt, I'll promise not to give a toss about your opinion of Munro.
PS obviously PAUL, and not the absurdly over-praised Jane (Bowles).


I'm with Birnbaum. Short-stories are the mother-lode of fiction. And working on a collection myself, it is maddening to hear that they are just not selling. Anyone can crank out a novel, but the short-story form is something that is a force with which to be reckoned. Profitable or not. Good for Eisenberg. I'm thrilled to see a good writer, especially a short-story writer get credit where credit is surely due.

Dan Wickett


I think we, as readers, care about the economics of literature for the same reason that Blackberry users paid attention to the courts this past week, the same reason I hated sitting in my favorite restaurant week after week two summers ago with only my family in it at 6 p.m. on Fridays - we are afraid that if the whispering is true, we may lose access to that which we so eagerly consume.


Dandy Dan

A point well taken —but then what? After one acknowledges the anomolous, fragile existence of the short story collection what is one to do?

Steven Augustine

I think the problem is two-pronged: the waning popularity of literature as a leisure-time activity, plus the lowering of literary standards by publishers hoping to seduce the dwindling readership by pandering to it. And both are symptoms (in my humble opinion) of the cultural malaise that is an effect of late model Morbid Capitalism. Something as fragile as the Fine Arts should never have been dumped into the same arena as Popular Entertainment, for even as Morbid Capitalism pretends to be about greater variety and freedom of choice what it's really about is One of Everything...the peak of every product pyramid is the only thing the stock holders give a damn about. When video games/comics/movies go head to head with novels in the marketplace, of course you end up with a remaindered corpse.

The only 'solution' is to RAISE the standards, not lower them, and let novels and short stories do what movies and video games just can't. Literary Fiction is such an esoteric technology that nothing else, after all these centuries, comes close. Pandering to TV Lovers is a gratuitous suicide...go the other direction and strengthen the specialist niche that was there at the beginning. Obviously, the niche is still there and composed of a fair number of people with serious incomes. Not enough for anyone to become genuinely rich in the publishing game, but when did that become the point?

We've already ruined poetry by re-configuring a quietly calibrated private aesthetic experience into the loud shallow pop of 'slams'...'get them to read at all costs' is great when applied to people who wouldn't otherwise read but when you snatch a book by Anne Sexton, or Ted Hughes, out of a college freshman's hands and replace that with charisma-driven stage shows, you're defeating the purpose.

When 'get them to read at all costs' meets 'shift a million units at all costs' we get what we sometimes have these days...slightly bizarre debates about whether novels or short stories are the superior form. The point is, Literature itself is demonstrably the superior aesthetic compared to its Mass Media nemesises and we're going to lose this battle if we lose sight of that.

In my opinion.

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