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Two wide-ranging collections of short stories by and about women

Author: Francesca Steele
Newspaper: The Spectator
Date: Oct 19 2019

Your Duck is My Duck, the latest collection from Deborah Eisenberg, a seasoned short story writer, is also set largely in New York. Here are six spiky critiques of social mores. The stories are not overtly political but they have an acute sense of panic. ‘I’m hurtling through time, strapped to an explosive device, my life. Plus, it’s beginning to look like a photo finish, me first or the rest of the world,’ says the narrator in the title story.

The past is a source of discomfort. In ‘Cross Off’ and ‘Move On’, bitter mothers rehearse their existential discontent on their daughters. In ‘Taj Mahal’, former film stars gather to express outrage at a sensational book written by the grandson of their late friend Anton. None of them remembers the grandson, and all are convinced his recollections are inaccurate — but their own memories don’t align either. Still, one of them declares with unnerving confidence: ‘The point of the past is that it’s immutable.’

Is it? Eisenberg is preoccupied with her narrators’ misconceptions — with our tendency to misread others. These blind spots make the future, rather than the past, immutable. In ‘Merge’, a young couple are incap-able of changing one another as they would like. Is this simply a question of language being less powerful than we imagine, or is everything preordained anyway?

These stories take their time, draw us in to their claustrophobic little worlds, and savour language and humanity, in all their muddled, inadequate glory.