Friday, 23 February 2018

BOOK review: Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides

My favourite author is such and such, this guy or that gal. We list them off like old friends, knowing we share a private stash of memories; even if someone else was present their experience of the same moments will have been different. The list becomes commonplace, and we become complacent in our recitation of it. It’s easy to remember that we may like something, but more difficult to remember why we liked that something in the first place. And when that something is a Jeffrey Eugenides book, with countless yawning years between each release, the remembered joy of the pages remain while the words that caused it may fade.

So, good to see you old friend. I have a fresh complaint – that you don’t visit more often! There wasn’t one story in this collection I didn’t enjoy. They’re all vignettes of sometimes poignant and sometimes mundane moments in life. There’s life and death and tragedy, apathy and sex and emotional dysentery. Each story is best experienced spoiler free, so what I’m going to do is just take a favourite line from each for you to enjoy.


"Pay no attention to the terrors that visit you in the night. The psyche is at its lowest ebb then, unable to defend itself. The desolation that envelops you feels like truth, but isn't. It's just mental fatigue masquerading as insight."

Air Mail

"One morning in a guesthouse in Bangkok, Mitchell had awoken with a queasy stomach. Once up and out of his mosquito netting, though, he'd felt better. Then that night after dinner, there'd come a series of taps, like fingers drumming on the inside of his abdomen. The next morning the diarrhea started."


"Instead, the city began filling with babies. I saw them in elevators and lobbies and out on the sidewalk. I saw them straightajacketed into car seats, drooling and ranting. I saw babies in the park, on leashes. I saw them on the subway, gazing at me with sweet, gummy eyes over the shoulders of Dominican nannies. New York was no place to be having babies. So why was everybody having them? Every fifth person on the street toted a pouch containing a bonneted larva. They looked like they needed to go back inside the womb."

Early Music

"Sometimes you thought you heard the music, especially when you were young, and then you spent the rest of your life trying to reproduce the sound."


"She looks at me, into my eyes. While she does this, she's not so much my mother as just a fellow human being, with troubles and a sense of humor. "You don't want to know," she says.""

Find the Bad Guy

"You could never mention the smells  to your friends, because they were part of it, too. Was it hygiene? Or was it, you know, glandular, and the way each family smelled had to do with bodily functions deep inside their bodies? The whole thing sort of turned your stomach, the more you thought about it."

The Oracular Vulva

"Luce bumped into her at the drinking fountain. "Water tastes like rust," she said, looking up at him with no recognition and hurrying away. A week later, with her father's .45 automatic, she killed herself."

Capricious Gardens

"When Annie flirted she didn't always admit to herself that she was flirting. Sometimes she preferred to suspend her mental facilities so that she could flirt, as it were, without her mind watching."

Great Experiment

"At a backyard barbecue the previous summer, Kendall had listened with a serious face as Bill explained his profession. Kendall specialized in a serious face. This was the face he'd trained on his high-school and college teachers from his seat in the first row: the ever-alert, A-student face."

Fresh Complaint

"There's no winning: if his children seem traumatized by his absence, it's terrible; if they seem distant and self-reliant, it's just as bad. The familiar details of their bedrooms stab Matthew in the heart, the flocked wallpaper in Hazel's room, Jacob's hockey posters."

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