Jeffrey Eugenides’s collection of love stories hits the spot
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.
Although some of Eugenides’s featured writers – Harold Brodkey, Mary Robison, Vladimir Nabokov, William Trevor – also appear in Roger Angell’s 1997 anthology of love stories from The New Yorker, “Nothing But You,” there is, remarkably, no duplication of stories. Eugenides’s collection tucks many old favorites together between covers for the first time.