Jeffrey Eugenides is the author of the novels Virgin Suicides, Middlesex and The Marriage Plot. In Fresh Complant, the playful, acerbic American author gathers ten short stories written since 1989, some of which were first published in The New Yorker.
Timeshare has a deadbeat, feckless air as a young man comes down to stay with his parents in the motel his father has bought - dad's intention is to convert the rooms into timeshare apartments.
The venture is inauspicious to say the least; the handyman is drinking and must be fired. Meanwhile, the roof is leaking, and a customer is complaining.
The timeshare proposal will surely fail like every other venture the dad has embarked on, but the luckless entrepreneur presses on unflappable though in his mid-sixites, the million he once made, by sheer luck, frittered away. Meanwhile, mother silently resigns herself to yet another lousy scheme. The challenged, tight family unit, the body language, the dialogue, the listless Daytona Beach scene, the tawdry desolation - all the elements are sharply and neatly observed.
Eugenides can be a bit of a smart aleck, with an occasionaly indulgent tone, albeit one that is not lacking in the humane touch - it's is as if those early and often dour Richard Ford short stories were re-animated with dark laughter. The Oracular Vulva - yea, no kidding, that is the title - tracks a career-frustrated veteran sexologist named Luce who is visiting a village inhabited by members of the Dawat tribe. The men-folk live strictly apart from their womenfolk, except for brief meetings for procreation. Luce spends much of the night fending off amorous disturbingly young male advances. He has come to this smelly, mosquito-infested jungle to finally prove his theories about intersexuality, and get one over on his professional rival, the more contained and assured Dr Fabienne Pappas-Kikuchi. The humour derives from academia in a tight spot, the shiftless, insecure don embattled by the female rival, the war of the sexes taken to the academic front - classic Saul Bellow territory.
Capricious Gardens is set in the Irish countryside (an unnamed county) as separated husband Sean invites two back-packing American girls to stay at his house and take a break from hostel life. The trouble is, when he stopped his car on the road, he did not see the second girl, Maria who was lurking out of sight - that old ploy. He had wanted to offer the lift to Annie, whom he seriously fancies.
Find the Bad Guy explores marriage with a hard-bitten yet tender wisdom. The narrator is a country music consultant who advises radio stations about their playlists. He is married to a German girl, Johanna, who, following courtship, convinced him to marry her for her Green Card status. Years later, he is negotiating a barring order, prowling around the garden, thinking about his girl and two boys. Instructed to stay at least 50 feet distance from the family home, he tries to remotely engage his daughter in their phone word game. The language is companionable, slyly knowing. Eugenides can sum a character up in one choice image if he wishes, as in the following pithy observation: ''Johanna, who’s a soft touch and throws away her vote on the Green Party.'
Recommended for the seasoned, incisive humour and the crazed situations that Eugenides can deftly polish with prose into a workable crediblity.