Come in contact with enough people, and inadvertently or otherwise, you’re bound to disappoint a few of them. Variations on the theme of disappointment link the six stories in Your Duck Is My Duck, Deborah Eisenberg’s first collection of new work since 2006’s Twilight of the Superheroes. It’s hard to imagine a more graceful depiction of lives filled with quiet desperation. As heartbreaking as these works may be, the beauty of the language and Eisenberg’s sympathy for her characters will win over readers.
And what beautifully drawn characters they are: an artist who accepts an offer from wealthy admirers to paint at their island retreat, only to discover that the island isn’t the paradise it seems; elderly actors from Hollywood’s golden age who gather in New York to grouse about a tell-all memoir written by the “putative grandson” of a famous director; a middle-aged woman who recalls three aunts she knew in her youth and her fraught relationship with her mother; and a recent college graduate who steals $10,000 from his unethical CEO father. This last character is featured in a story that also includes a researcher studying the origins of language and begins with the famously ironic boast—“I have the best words”—from the current White House occupant.
Eisenberg’s ability to dramatize family strife through small details has never been more acute, as when an aunt’s purchase of a baby doll for her niece intensifies the mother’s jealousy. And Eisenberg’s writing is glorious throughout, such as her description of a woman wearing “a little vintage sundress, the color of excellent butter.” A story about a teenager seeking a cure for episodes of confusion feels unfocused, but the other five are among the most astute works of short fiction this year. You may not like all the characters, but the book doesn’t disappoint.