‘Fresh Complaint’ is a collection of 10 short stories by Jeffrey Eugenides. The first and last stories in the collection, ‘Complainers’ and ‘Fresh Complaint’, are new and have never been published before while the rest have appeared in the New Yorker and other magazines over the past three decades or so.
Eugenides’ three novels to date have all been completely different from the dreamy tone of ‘The Virgin Suicides’ to a Greek family saga in 20th century Detroit in ‘Middlesex’ to a love triangle between three recent graduates of a liberal arts college in ‘The Marriage Plot’. In contrast, money, debt and nostalgia appear to be loosely recurring themes in ‘Fresh Complaint’ across a similarly diverse set of scenarios which often focus on characters in some sort of personal crisis. In ‘Early Money’ a musician attempts to hide from the debt collectors tracking him down after he borrowed $27,000 to spend on a clavichord while the title story sees an Indian-American teenage girl plan her escape from the prospect of an arranged marriage which has serious consequences for a visiting British professor she encounters.
There are also a couple of early appearances of characters from his novels including Dr. Peter Luce from ‘Middlesex’ in ‘The Oracular Vulva’ while Mitchell Grammaticus from ‘The Marriage Plot’ takes centre stage in ‘Air Mail’ in which he is suffering from a bout of amoebic dysentery while travelling in Asia. Written some 15 years before Eugenides’ third and most recent novel to date, it is one of the most memorable tales here and is a good example of how ideas in short stories can be developed further down the line – characters from some of Haruki Murakami’s collections have appeared in his later novels too.
Overall, I enjoyed this collection a lot and for the most part, the stories are original and intriguing. That said, Eugenides’ novels probably remain the best introduction for readers who are new to his work and he seems to be more effective at exploring the eccentric traits of his characters in the depth and space of long-form fiction rather than the sharper precision required for short stories. It is also difficult to say if ‘Fresh Complaint’ would automatically appeal to his existing fans as his work to date has been so varied and these stories have been written over a very long period of time. However, given that his novels only appear at a current rate of one every decade or so, ‘Fresh Complaint’ should be a welcome interlude for many of those waiting for his next novel to be published. Many thanks to 4th Estate for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.