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Thrilling woes of that thing called ‘love story’

Jeffrey Eugenides’s collection of love stories hits the spot

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Don’t be put off by the strange title, which Jeffrey Eugenides plucked from the Latin poet Catullus’s verse bemoaning having to share his lover’s attention with her pet sparrow.

It’s the only off note in this otherwise irresistible anthology of 27 love stories sure to make hearts flutter well beyond Valentine’s Day. My Mistress’s Sparrow Is Dead was edited by Eugenides at Dave Eggers’s behest, to benefit the Chicago chapter of 826 National, his writing programs for teens, a cause as worthy as amour.

Eugenides’s point is that love stories – as opposed to love itself – thrive on obstructions: sparrows, dead or alive. As he explains in his introduction, they “depend on disappointment” and “nearly without exception, give love a bad name.” What he doesn’t mention is that reading love stories thrillingly combines the pleasures of prurience and schadenfreude.

Unlike Zadie Smith, who commissioned new stories by hip young writers for “The Book of Other People,” her anthology for Eggers’s literacy project, Eugenides sought suggestions rather than submissions from contemporary authors.

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