Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides

Fresh Complaint

The first collection of short fiction from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey EugenidesJeffrey Eugenides’s bestselling novels have shown that he is an astute observer of the crises of adolescence, sexual identity, self-discovery, family love, and what it means to be an American in our times. The stories in Fresh Complaint continue that tradition. Ranging from the re...

Title:Fresh Complaint
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Fresh Complaint Reviews

  • Sharon

    I've loved Eugenides' novels--Middlesex is a lifetime fave--but reading this story collection on the heels of work like

    and

    , the stories just feel tame, safe, predictable, and somewhat short on meaning. The Gay and Marchado stories are so wild and raw and fearless and pull the very soul of of you for you to examine, while these are perfectly nice, well-written, mildly contemplative stories. Glad I read it, doubt I'll think of it again.

  • StaringGirl
  • Kristy

    Jeffrey Eugenides' short story collection features a variety of stories written across the course of his career, many featured earlier in various publications in previous forms. From the sperm switching antics of "Baster" to the complications of nationality and marriage in "Fresh Complaint" to money and morality in "Great Experiment," we're treated to Eugenides' usual excellent writing and perspective on characters and life.

    I often skip story collections, as I tend to feel a loss with them, as

    Jeffrey Eugenides' short story collection features a variety of stories written across the course of his career, many featured earlier in various publications in previous forms. From the sperm switching antics of "Baster" to the complications of nationality and marriage in "Fresh Complaint" to money and morality in "Great Experiment," we're treated to Eugenides' usual excellent writing and perspective on characters and life.

    I often skip story collections, as I tend to feel a loss with them, as if the tale is unfinished, and I just want more details about each character and their motivations and end-state. I picked up FRESH COMPLAINT based solely on my love for Eugenides (

    is an all-time favorite). I won't lie: I still felt that same unfinished feeling at the end of most of the stories. Clearly I just am meant more for long-form fiction. I also hadn't realized when I picked up the book that most of the stories were previously published, but luckily I am not usually reading

    and such, so I hadn't come across any of these previously.

    One of the most exciting discoveries for me was, upon completing "Baster," confirming that it was indeed the premise for the silly film "The Switch" with Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston that is an incredibly guilty pleasure of mine. The story differs from the film, but you can clearly see how it's the base, and it's quite enjoyable.

    Another favorite of mine was "Fresh Complaint," the final story in the collection, and clearly where it gets its title. We meet a young woman, Prakrtri, who is struggling with the fact that her family is trying to arrange a marriage for her, and a college professor who is traveling for work. How their paths cross is quite interesting. It's detailed, touching, and yet disturbing.

    My other favorite was "Great Experiment" featuring an editor, Kendall, in his mid-thirties. He's comparing himself (unfavorably) to his peers, as he struggles financially in his job and resentfully watches his wealthy boss live well while not even providing Kendall health insurance. The story takes an interesting turn, and, as with much of Eugenides work, seems to have a greater message for us.

    Overall, I didn't enjoy this as much as an Eugenides novel, because there just isn't the time to fall for his nuanced characters. I still enjoyed many of the stories and realize I probably gravitated toward "Fresh Complaint" and "Great Experiment" because they were some of the longer tales in the collection. If you like Eugenides, you may want to pick up this collection (provided you haven't already read the stories elsewhere). If you haven't read him in any form, go find

    instead. 3.5 stars.

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  • Terri Jacobson

    This superb collection of short fiction by Jeffrey Eugenides includes stories written between 1988 and 2017. The stories were all new to me. (I've enjoyed Eugenides long fiction and was unaware he wrote stories as well.) The writing in this collection is terrific and the themes are hard-hitting and intense.

    In

    a woman has a party to celebrate her insemination with donor sperm. The ending in this story, as in many, is powerful and somehow so appropriate.

    is a story about a

    This superb collection of short fiction by Jeffrey Eugenides includes stories written between 1988 and 2017. The stories were all new to me. (I've enjoyed Eugenides long fiction and was unaware he wrote stories as well.) The writing in this collection is terrific and the themes are hard-hitting and intense.

    In

    a woman has a party to celebrate her insemination with donor sperm. The ending in this story, as in many, is powerful and somehow so appropriate.

    is a story about a husband whose family has taken out a restraining order, so he is watching them secretly.

    showcases a publisher whose house puts out only 5 titles a year. The protagonist, Kendall, is working for a wealthy man who is stingy and penny-pinching, and Kendall finally has enough. One of my favorite stories is

    Rodney is an expert in the early composers of classical music, and he has an expensive clavichord that is being repossessed. He thinks about his career:

    Eugenides is a skillful writer and I love his images. He can evoke a mood or feeling with a phrase. (

    ) In this collection of 10 stories there was only one that kind of missed the mark for me.

    is a fine collection of short fiction. 4.5 stars.

    Thanks to Lit Hub's First Readers' Club and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for ARC.

    will be published October 3, 2017.

  • Kathleen

    My review for the Chicago Tribune:

    Jeffrey Eugenides' new collection may be called "Fresh Complaint," but the stories themselves are less fresh and more retrospective. The book consists of an array of material ranging from 1988 to 2017, including "Air Mail," which was selected by Annie Proulx for the 1997 edition of "The Best American Short Stories" and "Capricious Gardens," which began as part of his master's thesis.

    Better known for his long-form fiction,

    My review for the Chicago Tribune:

    Jeffrey Eugenides' new collection may be called "Fresh Complaint," but the stories themselves are less fresh and more retrospective. The book consists of an array of material ranging from 1988 to 2017, including "Air Mail," which was selected by Annie Proulx for the 1997 edition of "The Best American Short Stories" and "Capricious Gardens," which began as part of his master's thesis.

    Better known for his long-form fiction, Eugenides is the author of three novels, including 1993's "The Virgin Suicides," which was made into a movie by Sofia Coppola, and 2011's "The Marriage Plot." He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for "Middlesex," his novel about an intersex protagonist, Cal (sometimes "Callie") Stephanides, coming of age and grappling with the American Dream and gender identity in 20th century Detroit.

    A couple of the 10 pieces here contain crossover characters from his longer works, notably "The Oracular Vulva," which features Dr. Peter Luce, the sexologist from "Middlesex" and the aforementioned "Air Mail," whose protagonist, Mitchell, also appears in "The Marriage Plot." Each story includes the year it was written at the end, instructively calling attention to the development of Eugenides' approaches and themes across the decades.

    This collection contains flashes of what makes his longer work a pleasure to read — fraught situations, keenly observed behaviors, and senses of complicated humor and empathy — but on the whole, it feels uneven. In the opening story, "Complainers," about the lengthy friendship of two elderly women named Cathy and Della, he writes of Della's experience of reading: "Since her last reading, she's forgotten enough of the book that the story seems new again, yet familiar. Welcoming. But it's mostly the act itself that brings relief, the self-forgetfulness, the diving and plunging into other lives." One could do worse in terms of an explanation of the appeal of fiction, yet too few of these stories offer that sense of depth, skating instead on the surfaces of the lives they depict.

    "Baster," for instance, offers a glib take on a somewhat hackneyed situation: the woman who seemingly has it all — "a great job as an assistant producer of CBS Evening News with Dan Rather … a terrific, adult-size apartment on Hudson Street … good looks, mostly intact … an IRA kicked up to $175,000" — but who "wanted a baby." In the absence of a husband, as the title suggests, she artificially inseminates herself. But Eugenides holds this story and so many others at arm's length, filtering it through the sexist first-person narration of Wally Mars, an ex-boyfriend who asserts that "Men like being objectified."

    Similarly, in "Find the Bad Guy," he takes on the cliched absurdity of a green card marriage, telling the story from the perspective of the husband, originally from Michigan, but who speaks in a corny pseudo-Texan style. "Got to talking this way on account of living down here for so long," he clunkily explains, interspersing the tale with cartoonish sentences that angle for cheap laughs: "I look up at my house and cogitate some — I don't rightly want to say what about."

    In the strongest stories, particularly "Timeshare" and "Capricious Gardens," Eugenides comes across as bemused by — but not mocking or contemptuous of — his characters. In too many others, his tone condescends and dismisses, as when he writes of the aging hipster protagonist of "Great Experiment" that "Kendall had never wanted to live like his parents. That had been the whole idea, the lofty rationale behind the snow-globe collection and the flea market eyewear."

    Hit or miss as the stories are, they do contain some gems of insight, as when the married Matthew, on a college campus to give a physics lecture, decides to reply to a flirtatious text from an underage girl and thinks, "It was like skiing. Like the moment when, at the summit, you first lean downhill and gravity takes hold, sending you flying." Or when the largely odious Wally Mars notes: "But in eliminating some regrets you create others." One regrets this collection's lack of consistency, but it is worth a read as one waits for Eugenides' next novel.

  • Meike

    This collection of ten short stories covers almost three decades of Eugenides’ writing career, from 1988 to the present, and it is interesting to see how certain topics remain at the center of the autho

    This collection of ten short stories covers almost three decades of Eugenides’ writing career, from 1988 to the present, and it is interesting to see how certain topics remain at the center of the author’s interest while his approach to them keeps shifting. “Fresh complaint” is a legal term, meaning that the victim of a crime, especially a sexual offense, reports the incident to someone in a position of trust, like a friend or a policeman, shortly after it happened. Clearly, fresh complaints are advantageous for criminal prosecution as possible evidence might otherwise get lost and memory tends to fade or distort the past. But Eugenides also applies the term in a more literal sense: His stories’ protagonists are all struggling with events that shaped their lives in unfortunate ways, and yes, some of them indulge in complaining. What further connects the short stories in this collection is that they contrast the idea a person has of him- or herself in her own mind with the outside reality or perception – and Eugenides excels at exploring these contrasting images, as he has already shown in

    and

    .

    Two women who support each other when the older one, 88-year-old Della, starts to suffer from dementia, both of them taking courage from their favorite book

    (“Complainers”);

    A backpacker (Mitchell Grammaticus from

    ) on a tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand who is trying to find enlightenment through fasting (“Air Mail”);

    A man who is hurt by the fact that his former girlfriend rather wants to have a child with a sperm donor than with him (“Baster”);

    A clavichord player trying to provide for his family and deeply regretting the choices he made (“Early Music”);

    An elderly man who loses his fortune and tries to start a new business so his sons can have an inheritance (“Timeshare”);

    A man ruminating about his marriage that has fallen apart (“Find the Bad Guy”);

    A sexologist (from

    ) whose major findings are contested on the same day he is awarded a lifetime achievement award and who travels to Irian Jaya (now Papua) to prove his critics wrong (“The Oracular Vulva”);

    A divorced man trying to seduce a young backpacker who gets interrupted by an old friend, the backpacker’s travel companion, and a number of misperceptions (“Capricious Gardens”);

    An editor giving up on his long-held beliefs and trying to defraud his boss in order to benefit his family (“Great Experiment”);

    An American-Indian girl who is afraid she has to enter an arranged marriage and takes extreme measures (“Fresh Complaint”) -

    all of these stories are full of telling details, little hints that give way to new associations and thoughts. The character depictions and the level of empathy Eugenides employs are simply stunning: Even when he writes about terrible people (and there are a lot of dubious characters in this book), the reader cannot help but feel with them.

    A really nice collection!

  • Elyse

    Audiobook....

    I like Jeffrey Eugenides. I enjoy his writing - I loved “MiddleSex”.....

    and I like “The Marriage Plot” much more than most in my local book club.

    But - I’m so-so about these 10 short stories. I was taken in right away with the first story: “Complainers” — Della and Cathy are friends. Della is much older and married. Della’s husband runs into financial problems after making some risky investments which failed after he insisted that moving to Florida was the right move.

    Cathy was angr

    Audiobook....

    I like Jeffrey Eugenides. I enjoy his writing - I loved “MiddleSex”.....

    and I like “The Marriage Plot” much more than most in my local book club.

    But - I’m so-so about these 10 short stories. I was taken in right away with the first story: “Complainers” — Della and Cathy are friends. Della is much older and married. Della’s husband runs into financial problems after making some risky investments which failed after he insisted that moving to Florida was the right move.

    Cathy was angry with Della for even listening to her husband make all their decisions- which created tension in their friendship. But when Della’s husband dies...she and Cathy get closer again. The story keeps moving - held my interest from beginning to end - every word.... from the assisted living quarters Della moves into - to her dementia- aging - friendship ....etc. I thought about both Cathy and Della a lot.....

    and .....I enjoyed “Timeshare”...A father buys an old broken down resort in Florida that he’s going to re-design. Upscale - no students allowed “piss on them”....

    with his bad back and all....

    And other stories — ”Early Music” - is pretty good ....”Find the Bad Boy” ... and the last story “Fresh Complaint”.... the title story....was also pretty good...

    But overall these stories are a mixed bag -and overall lukewarm.

    3 Stars....

    *PERSONAL SHARE: (again) ... healing at home ... 2 more surgeries are scheduled beginning Nov. 3rd...I’m in no pain.... but due to the worse fires in California history.... as I look out the window this very moment - the sky is black... we smelled the fire in our house last night. The closest fire to us is 2 1/2 hours drive away... it seems everyone around here knows somebody who is lost their home. Our favorite get-a-way town- Calistoga is not on fire - but the entire town did need to evacuate... so we are watching closely.

    Our county- Santa Clara county sent out alert warnings for people to stay inside as much as possible. Children are not going to school. No walking outdoors. The air quality is ‘that bad’ - It’s even worse in San Francisco. It’s really sad. We’ve never seen anything like this.

    So many natural disasters lately... Mother Nature seems to be having an awful temper tantrum!

    My thoughts - and best hopes - to all those directly affected by these fires...wishing the members - here on Goodreads in the local vicinity of the fires are safe and well!

  • Andrew Smith

    I’d really enjoyed the author’s novel

    (where I discovered a dictionary’s worth of words I previously had no knowledge of) so the opportunity to read a bunch of short stories from the hand of this gifted scribbler was something I wasn’t going to pass up. All of these stories have been previously published in magazines in the period 1989 – 2013. I wouldn’t say there’s a common theme, though a sense of dissatisfaction with life or circumstance - a desire for something that is absent - se

    I’d really enjoyed the author’s novel

    (where I discovered a dictionary’s worth of words I previously had no knowledge of) so the opportunity to read a bunch of short stories from the hand of this gifted scribbler was something I wasn’t going to pass up. All of these stories have been previously published in magazines in the period 1989 – 2013. I wouldn’t say there’s a common theme, though a sense of dissatisfaction with life or circumstance - a desire for something that is absent - seems to loom large in most of the tales.

    All of the stories grabbed me quickly, were well paced and maintained sufficient energy to keep me interested throughout. I also liked the fact that there was a good dose of humour sprinkled around, even when the story was otherwise somewhat dark (e.g.

    and

    ). These snippets of life are widely varied and although some grabbed me more than others I think each has something interesting to offer. My personal favourites are

    where a man suffering a personal financial crisis finds escape playing his clavicord (a keyboard on which he taps out ancient and obscure tunes) and

    where a young man contemplates life whist suffering from a prolonged bout of diarrhea on a distant beach.

    As always with these short, window views I was often left with the thought that I’d like to see more of a particular character or to have been allowed to see a scene play out to a broader conclusion. Well, the good news is that Eugenides has provided this opportunity – it appears that the character featured in Air Mail can be found in his novel

    . And that’s where I’ll be off to next.

    My thanks to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  • Erin

    2.5 stars. To anyone who knows my reading life, it’s not a secret that I usually don’t care for short stories. But Jeffrey Eugenides is such a good and interesting writer, that I couldn’t resist trying this collection out. I had my doubts going in - this is a collection of 10 short stories and all but two of them were published in various periodicals ranging from the 80s to a few years ago. Theoretically I think it’s a good idea, because it allows an artist to make money for work they’ve done th

    2.5 stars. To anyone who knows my reading life, it’s not a secret that I usually don’t care for short stories. But Jeffrey Eugenides is such a good and interesting writer, that I couldn’t resist trying this collection out. I had my doubts going in - this is a collection of 10 short stories and all but two of them were published in various periodicals ranging from the 80s to a few years ago. Theoretically I think it’s a good idea, because it allows an artist to make money for work they’ve done throughout their career, but in a practical sense the end product is often uneven. That was definitely the case with this collection - Interpreter of Maladies it is not.

    In several of the stories, an otherwise interesting situation becomes glib and borderline sexist when viewed through the eyes of the clueless male narrator - for example, in the story “Find the Bad Guy” the somewhat interesting tale of the rise and fall of a greencard marriage becomes unbearable when filtered through the corny dialect of the alcoholic macho Texan husband. The worst story of the collection “Baster” is basically unreadable, rendering men and women to their worst stereotypes.

    There’s also two crossover stories - “The Oracular Vulva” featuring the doctor from Middlesex and “Air Mail” featuring Mitchell from The Marriage Plot. Both stories are so deeply inferior to the longer novels that they feel incredibly unsatisfying. During most of the collection, I could hardly even tell this was the same author. Punchline: If you’re interested in some Eugenides, skip right over this and go to one of the novels.

  • Larry H

    I'd rate this 3.5 stars.

    Ever since Jeffrey Eugenides burst on to the literary scene in the early 1990s with

    , he's proven himself to be an expert commentator on the foibles of the human condition, sex, adolescence, relationships, family dynamics, and, at times, the often-mundane challenges of everyday life. He further cemented that reputation with

    and

    , so when I heard that he'd finally be coming out with a short story collection, I was excited

    I'd rate this 3.5 stars.

    Ever since Jeffrey Eugenides burst on to the literary scene in the early 1990s with

    , he's proven himself to be an expert commentator on the foibles of the human condition, sex, adolescence, relationships, family dynamics, and, at times, the often-mundane challenges of everyday life. He further cemented that reputation with

    and

    , so when I heard that he'd finally be coming out with a short story collection, I was excited to see if he'd be able to capture this same kind of magic in short form.

    The verdict? His stories, some of which were written as early as 1996, definitely demonstrate his talent for creating memorable characters and vivid dialogue. Some have a dreamier quality, while others are more moving and poignant. The challenge is, not all of the stories are that interesting, so while you can savor Eugenides' storytelling ability, you might find yourself wondering what the point was in some cases.

    Among my favorites in the collection: "Baster," about a woman in her 40s who decides it's time to use a somewhat unorthodox way of getting pregnant, and how that decision affects a former boyfriend; "Complainers," which chronicles the decades-long relationship between two women, and how one responds when the other's infirmities start impacting her independence and her spirit; "Air Mail," the story of a young man's observations as he searches for enlightenment while traveling the world; "Find the Bad Guy," about a man trying to rebuild his marriage; and the title story, about a young girl's desire to escape her immigrant family's customs, so she makes an impetuous decision which turns a British physicist's life upside down.

    At their best, Eugenides draws you into the stories from their very first sentence, creating tension and empathetic characters whose lives and situations you become invested in. When the stories didn't work for me, they just didn't quite capture my attention (one seemed like an excerpt from

    or an early outtake), or I didn't quite understand what he was trying to say. Fortunately the good stories outnumbered the weaker ones, but some of the weaker ones made the collection feel a little bogged down.

    Eugenides is one of those authors who tends to take a while between novels. I hope that since

    was mostly a collection of previously written material, we won't have to wait much longer for a new book. (

    was released in 2011.) Still, these stories are a nice way to tide you over until the next book comes along, if you're one of those who could use a Eugenides fix.

    See all of my reviews at

    .

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