What distinguishes Eisenberg from peers like Grace Paley, Joy Williams and William Trevor is an approach to storytelling that can be dizzyingly prismatic, as if refracted through cracked glass. Eisenberg has little faith in the typical expository armatures that prop up dramatic scenes: who is talking and to whom and about what, even though close reading will answer these questions in time. By stripping away quotation marks and the informational fat that might provide obvious explanations, by thrusting readers into the middle of a conversation with characters we have yet to meet properly or playing hot potato with point of view, Eisenberg tests just how much can be left out before a story drowns in enigma … Eisenberg has given us these remarkable stories, machines of perfect revelation deftly constructed by a contemporary master.
These characters are all misfits of one sort or another. They are people who experience themselves as outsiders who never quite fit into the roles they have been assigned in life; people, poorly equipped by temperament or emotional history for the Darwinian struggle of life … Using her playwright's ear for dialogue and a journalistic eye for the askew detail, Ms. Eisenberg gives us — in just a handful of pages — a visceral sense of these characters' daily routines, the worlds they inhabit and the families they rebel against or allow to define them. By moving fluently back and forth between the present and the past, she shows how memories and long ago events shadow current decisions, how the gap between expectations and reality grows ever wider as the years scroll by.
Sanity — the thin line between having it and losing it — is a recurrent theme. Many of these characters fall somewhere between neurotic and downright dysfunctional … In life, we sink under the weight of our own limited brains. But as readers — at least of fiction as wry and crisp as Eisenberg's — we can escape.