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February 4, 2008

My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead by Eugenides

I’ve written before about short stories and their lack of portability. It’s a bit paradoxical then to have found the solution in the form of a big fat anthology. Perhaps it works because the anthology makes no illusion of portability? Anthologies aren’t great books for lugging around, for reading as you go, but the short story works in this context, functions as itself, best to dip into from time to time. Reading the whole book made me hungry for more, and for more short story anthologies (which is why The Penguin Book of Summer Stories is scheduled as an upcoming heart’s desire).

Perhaps the reason I’ve been so struck by My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro is that somehow every story managed “greatness”. Which sounds entirely subjective, I realize, but seemed quite straightforward with each story I finished. Love also the platform from which many “great” stories are launched from anyway, if not necessarily the most romantic ones.

Editor Jeffrey Eugenides writes in the introduction, “Please keep in mind: my subject here isn’t love. My subject is the love story… The happy marriage, the requited love, the desire that never dims– these are lucky eventualities but they aren’t love stories. Love stories depend on disappointment… Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name.” Which, I suppose, makes for better reading than roses are red, violets are blue…

Eugenides has chosen such a vast array of stories– some translated from Russian, German, Chinese, from such unlikely co-conspirators as Chekhov and Miranda July. From the short story writers I like the very best– Grace Paley and Alice Munro– to those stories so classic, we scarcely give them a second glance– “A Rose For Emily” or “The Dead”. Nabokov’s “Spring in Fialta”. To fall in love with Lorrie Moore for the first time (and yes, I’m lucky indeed). I liked almost every story here, and the few I didn’t, I will still acknowledge are good. This anthology was akin to a party, but crowded with stories instead of people, and I felt privileged to have had them so specially collected, to be able to mix among them.

One thought on “My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead by Eugenides”

  1. Gravity of our situation says:

    This anthology is a great collection across a wide range of time periods, themes and genres. Plus the cover looks great. And as Eugenides says in the intro:

    “It is perhaps only in reading a love story (or in writing one) that we can simultaneously partake of the ecstasy and agony of being in love without paying a crippling emotional price. I offer this book, then, as a cure for lovesickness and an antidote to adultery. Read these love stories in the safety of your single bed. Let everybody else suffer.”

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