“Bronze”
by Jeffrey Eugenides
from the February 5, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

It’s been a while since we’ve had much from Jeffrey Eugenides. I love his first novel, The Virgin Suicides (reviewed here). I did not love his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Middlesex (reviewed here). I did not try to read his third novel, The Marriage Plot (though I have it and still plan to some day). I didn’t hear much hub-bub when his collection of short stories, Fresh Complaint, came out last year. It would seem my interest in his work has died off, and my impression is that general interest has as well, but I’m hoping that if that’s the case it’s unfounded and that we all get a great story this week.

I look forward to seeing what you all think! I’m on holiday for the next few days so I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to read it, but I’ll try to find a way, especially if it’s good!

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By | 2018-01-29T11:06:17+00:00 January 29th, 2018|Categories: Jeffrey Eugenides, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Archer January 30, 2018 at 12:36 am

    First off, I want to mention that I read FRESH COMPLAINT, and I thought it was quite good. It’s a collection of stories written throughout his career, so it lacks a certain cohesion and the quality is a little inconsistent. But I think Eugenides has a genuine facility for the form. I especially liked the opening story, “Complainers”, which I found both funny and moving. Ditto for “Baster”, which was published in The New Yorker years ago. He’s particularly good with endings.

    Interestingly, this story (“Bronze”) was mentioned in the jacket copy for FRESH COMPLAINT before it came out. I had noticed that it didn’t end up in the final published book, and Eugenides explains the reason for this in the author Q&A: he simply couldn’t get it finished in time. He also intimates at the end of the interview that he’s expanding the story into a novel.

    Anyway, I thought it was fine. Good sense of time and place, and Eugenides convincingly switches between the POV of the two principal characters (one an out gay actor). He insists in the interview that he’s has the idea for this story for years, but it will be hard not to read it in the context of the current #MeToo movement. After “Cat Person”, it’s another piece that asks questions about consent and coercion. Added to the mix is an exploration of sexual identity, namely the same-sex experience of an ostensibly heterosexual character. (To be clear, I’m speaking of the episode between Eugene and Kent, not between Eugene and his former teacher, which is a clear-cut case of abuse.)

    All that said, something about the story didn’t really pop for me. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I found it a bit monotonous, a bit flat-footed, and I found Eugene a rather dull character, despite the fur coat and pink sunglasses. I kept thinking I’d rather be reading a story about Jasper, Kent’s dying ex-lover. I’ll need to reflect on this a bit more.

  2. David January 30, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    I think I am in the same general ballpark on this story as Archer. Some very nice writing, but….
    .
    For me the problem actually wasn’t the main characters. I liked them just fine. Although I must admit, by the end of the story the character I wanted to know more about was the ballerina, so Archer and I have something sort of in common there. I also felt like the story was very overstuffed. We kept being taken away from Eugene and Kent to get loads of backstory and other events from their lives, which diminished my interest in the meeting between the main characters, not heighten it.
    .
    But my most significant reservation about this story is where the two main characters are at the end of it. Eugene tells the ballerina that he’s not gay and interested in dating her. Ok, but everything about the story to that point has said that he is gay – from the Liberace coat and Elton John sunglasses to his adventures in the city with the gay couple to his awareness of what Kent wants and still going to his house with him. Are we supposed to accept his claim that he is not gay or are we supposed to, as Kent does, dismiss it? And then there is Kent. He spends the whole story working on getting Eugene to his home to have sex with him and then suddenly after Eugene leaves he calls up his former lover, lies about what happened with Eugene, and announces his “resolution” to make a big change in his life. This all seems to come out of the blue and is difficult to know what to make of it. So I found my self confused about both characters at the end.
    .
    It is interesting to know from the author interview that the story was written before the #MeToo movement began. More specifically, anyone familiar with the recent story about Aziz Ansari will probably see a lot of similarities to Kent’s seduction of Eugene.

  3. Ken February 7, 2018 at 3:25 am

    I found this quite breezy, readable but to me it really felt like the beginning of a novel and had a rather inconclusive ending. It doesn’t seem to have enough to it for a short story, but it could be part of a larger project in which case the entire work might have a depth in its totality. i enjoyed this, but it also left me kind of cold.

  4. Rhonda February 7, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    Agree mostly with Archer and David. There’s no denying that there’s some beautiful phrasing in the piece, and the sense of time and place is captivating. But I wanted it to be more focused. I was distracted, if not irritated, by the amount of people that populated it… particularly near the beginning when I was trying to get into it.

    Every time a name is mentioned in any story you immediately need to feel they’ve earned their place there… for me lots of them were unnecessary and I would have chopped many!

    I’ve left some out but here goes: Eugene and Kent (Peter), then Stigwood, Raphael, Sally, Mr. Baxter, Mick, Rob, Mike (Mick, Mickey), Ron, Jasper, Louie, Ed, Dr. Fletcher, Miss McNally, Liz, R.J. and Ballerina (woman doesn’t get a name). Louie and Ed would definitely get the snip!

  5. Sean H February 9, 2018 at 4:10 am

    This one was wildly uneven. The Lethem-esque setting (also reminiscent of Garth Risk Hallberg’s recent City on Fire) and the word map game drew me in, as Eugenides is best known as exploring the midwestern milieu of The Virgin Suicides, so it was interesting to see him do this pop-culture overload NYC to New England train thing, exploring two males at various stages of life, and dealing with various levels of sexual alterity, Having read it, I find him only partially successful.
    The teetering back-and-forth see-saw POV (Eugene/Kent/Eugene/Kent/etc) was a bit offputting and I just don’t know how well he carried it off. I kept thinking that it should’ve been either from Kent’s POV only or more fully 3rd-person omniscient. As is, floating back and forth, was just OK at best. I also felt there was nothing really at stake. I kept waiting for some threat to be unveiled, something waiting for them in Rhode Island, something to give the story a sense of foreboding, suspense, or tension. Not all stories need such things, but this one did.
    The overall New Yorker-y feels were very high. Too many proper nouns, a deluge of them, including some that were too on-the-nose (Space Invaders, Stonewall) and other period references that felt out of place (I don’t remember “party” being used as a verb in 1978) or character observations that were insufficiently rendered (Eugene saying “It was like being a pretty girl” when uh, like, how would he know? Is that shorthand for his bisexuality?)
    Lastly, I agree that the supporting characters were more interesting than the leads. Jasper somewhat, but the ballerina much more so. She absolutely redeems the story at the end and left a good taste in my mouth on my way out of the story. She was very well encapsulated.

  6. Greg February 11, 2018 at 7:00 pm

    Sean – Thank you for sharing your appraisals on what the author attempted in this story….and I got a thrill when you mentioned my favourite novel from 2015 – the very underappreciated “City on Fire”!

    Overall, I found the writing at the sentence level at a very high level in this piece. The following are passages which I believe demonstrate this:

    “On the street men stared, their eyes aggressive, desperate, and frightened all at once. In some neighborhoods they came from all directions, like Space Invaders. It was like being a pretty girl. The pluses and minuses of that.”

    “Eugene loved the way girls looked and smelled, and how their voices sounded, but they didn’t know much more about the world than he did. Often less. Sometimes a lot less.”

    “Had no idea who he was yet, but it was touching to see how fervently he dreamed of being something.”

    “”You have to use the instrument you have,” Kent said. “Any good voice coach will tell you that. You can work on your instrument. But you can’t replace it.””

    “Jas knew how serious it was. He found Liz’s number in my address book and called to prepare her. Didn’t tell me until later. So Liz had known. Jasper had said he was a “friend”. But that voice of his. She knew. Never said a word about it. Nor Roger.”

    “He was in a region beyond words by now. The place he set out to find whenever he was drinking. A land where he could be his true, appetitive self and everything was permitted.”

  7. Rosti February 11, 2018 at 11:03 pm

    Names and personas, socialised, made fictive, verbally shortened, one even un-named, several celebrity “brands” name-dropped…yes indeed. And names are what matters in the #MeToo movement, no? And what sticks resonantly in my initial reading is the name of the main character being so close to the fine author’s last name.

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