Fresh Complaint: Stories

Though he's produced only three novels in nearly 25 years, with a Pulitzer Prize to his credit for 2002's Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides's literary credentials are impeccable. It comes as good news, then, that he's finally delivered a collection of career-spanning short stories, Fresh Complaint.

Eugenides has an affinity for characters whose lives are marked by longing for something more, a feeling that leads them into behavior that's foolish at best and self-destructive at worst. That's true of Charlie, the protagonist of "Find the Bad Guy," whose marriage of two decades to a German woman to secure her green card--"love at fifteenth sight, I guess you'd call it"--crumbles after his brief affair with a teenage babysitter. That scenario is echoed, but with an interesting perspective on the subject of romantic love, in the collection's title story, when Matthew, a visiting professor from England, encounters a young Indian American woman desperate to escape her family's plan for an arranged marriage.

In "Baster," Tomasina, a successful network news producer, reaches the age of 40 childless. Surveying the "ragtag gang of adulterers and losers, hit-and-run types, village burners" who might serve as a partner, she takes matters into her own hands. When Wally Mars, a former lover and the story's narrator, arrives at Tomasina's "Insemination Party," the evening takes a touching and entirely fitting turn.

Every one of the stories of Fresh Complaint offers a complete and satisfying reading experience. One hopes Jeffrey Eugenides doesn't wait another 30 years to produce a collection of stories this full of life. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

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