My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides, the editor of this collection of short stories begins by saying: “I offer this book as a cure for lovesickness and an antidote to adultery.  Read these love stories not to confirm the brutal realities of love, but to experience its many variegated, compensatory pleasures.”

He takes the title from the poetry of Catullus, who writes of his mistress’s pet sparrow as a rival for her attention.  When the sparrow dies and fortune seems to be going his way, he is really no better off; her grief becomes the new rival.

“There s a sparrow in every story,” Eugenides teases mysteriously.  What he means is that in every one of these stories, the nature of love shifts and changes: whether it’s a man giving his lover her first orgasm, a casual affair becoming serious, a marriage turning violent, or a woman surrendering her identity for love and, in the process, losing her lover.  Driven by passion, in pursuit of fulfilment, these characters are as often surprised as devastated by love.

The finest short story writers are included: Chekhov, Nabokov, Babel, Faulkner, Kundera, Brodkey, Munro.  Each approaches the theme of love uniquely, and yet the stories have something in common: their characters “seek a paradise that recedes endlessly before them”.

My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro, Jeffrey Eugenides, HarperCollins.

Review first published in The Courier-Mail in 2008.

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