My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro

Overview

"When it comes to love, there are a million theories to explain it. But when it comes to love stories, things are simpler. A love story can never be about full possession. Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name . . . .

It is perhaps only in reading a love story (or in writing one) that we can simultaneously partake of the ecstasy and agony of being in love ...

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Overview

"When it comes to love, there are a million theories to explain it. But when it comes to love stories, things are simpler. A love story can never be about full possession. Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name . . . .

It is perhaps only in reading a love story (or in writing one) that we can simultaneously partake of the ecstasy and agony of being in love without paying a crippling emotional price. I offer this book, then, as a cure for lovesickness and an antidote to adultery. Read these love stories in the safety of your single bed. Let everybody else suffer."—Jeffrey Eugenides, from the introduction to My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead

All proceeds from My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead will go directly to fund the free youth writing programs offered by 826 Chicago. 826 Chicago is part of the network of seven writing centers across the United States affiliated with 826 National, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Dirda
W hen it comes to love," writes Jeffrey Eugenides in this wonderful, if upsetting, collection of stories, "there are a million theories to explain it. But when it comes to love stories, things are simpler. A love story can never be about full possession. The happy marriage, the requited love, the desire that never dims—these are lucky eventualities but they aren't love stories. Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name"…Though every reader will grouse about overlooked favorites…Eugenides has chosen splendid work.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Pulitzer Prize winner Eugenides (Middlesex) has assembled something quite extraordinary here: a fascinating, consistently compelling, and superbly edited collection of short stories about romantic love. Part of the collection's appeal is its range and depth: at 600 pages, it offers gems and new discoveries at every turn. Readers move, for example, from Harold Brodkey's bawdy tribute to young love and orgasm in "Innocence" to Alice Munro's sober study of an aging philanderer's late-blooming love for his ailing wife in "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." There are classic love stories, e.g., James Joyce's "The Dead" and Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with the Little Dog," as well as more experimental, contemporary tales, e.g., Lorrie Moore's self-help-styled "How To Be an Other Woman" and George Saunders's dizzying, futuristic A Clockwork Orange-inflected world of trendSetters and tasteMakers in "Jon." Some of the best moments come from younger writers, who somehow manage to match the masters here step for step. An essential acquisition. [See Prepub Alert, LJ10/1/07.]
—Patrick Sullivan

The Barnes & Noble Review
The sparrow in the title of this anthology was one prong of an inconvenient love triangle described by the Latin poet Gaius Catullus in 84 B.C. The pet bird belonged to a girl who was loved by the poet and, unfortunately, her own husband. The sparrow takes the brunt of the lover's displaced jealousy, until it dies, taking his girl's happiness along with it. According to author Jeffrey Eugenides, all love stories since have followed the same template: "there is either a sparrow or the sparrow is dead." Frequently in these 26 stories, that sparrow takes the form of an inconvenient spouse, though it becomes apparent that the sparrow's presence is what makes the song so sweet. William Trevor provides a glimpse of the ordinary happiness that eludes a pair of lovers who take the unorthodox path of making a workaday love out of an illicit one, while Lorrie Moore gives a welcome take from the perspective of the mistress herself ("When you were six you thought mistress meant to put your shoes on the wrong feet. Now you are older and know it can mean many things but essentially it means to put your shoes on the wrong feet"). The selection is well packed with classics -- stories from Faulkner, Chekhov, Joyce, Nabokov, and Carver among them -- which speaks for Eugenides' comprehensive scope but may feel remedial to some. Contemporary tales by Deborah Eisenberg, Denis Johnson, Miranda July, and others pack more surprise. Though all the entries illuminate the amatory state, none are much of an advertisement for its wholesome pleasures. Warns Eugenides: "Read these love stories in the safety of your own twin bed. Let everyone else suffer." --Amy Benfer
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061240386
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/6/2009
  • Series: P.S.
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 608
  • Sales rank: 247,405
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 7.94 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides was born in Detroit and attended Brown and Stanford Universities. His first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was published to great acclaim in 1993 and was made into a film directed by Sofia Coppola. His second novel, Middlesex, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Biography

Jeffrey Eugenides grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and attended Brown and Stanford Universities. His novel Middlesex was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Ambassador Book Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, France's Prix Medicis, and the Lambda Literary Award. It was also selected for Oprah's Book Club. Eugenides' first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was adapted into a critically-acclaimed film by Sofia Coppola. He is on the faculty of Princeton University, and lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Good To Know

Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Everything Is Illuminated grew out of his creative writing thesis project, which was advised by Joyce Carol Oates and Eugenides.

Eugenides considered becoming a priest or a monk, and worked alongside Mother Teresa in India for one week during a traveling break from college. He explained to the Calgary Herald, "I was so unformed in my personality and was trying on different personas; being a saint was a bit tight on my shoulders, though. At 20 you can really change your philosophy of the world by reading a single book, or by one chance meeting."

Eugenides, who got the idea for The Virgin Suicides when his nephew's babysitter revealed to him that she and all her siblings had attempted suicide, wrote the book while working as an administrator at the Academy of American Poets in New York. The first chapter was published in the Paris Review in 1991, getting him an agent and, two days later, a book deal.

In a 1995 piece for the New York Times entitled, "Hand Me My Air Guitar: I'm Still a Jethro Tull Fan," Eugenides paid homage to one of his favorite bands. "Being a Tull fan is a chronic condition," he wrote. "As with malaria, a swampiness reclaims the veins without warning."

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    1. Hometown:
      Princeton, NJ
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 8, 1960
    2. Place of Birth:
      Detroit, Michigan
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Brown University, 1983; M.A. in creative writing/English, Stanford University, 1986

Read an Excerpt

My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead
Great Love Stories, from Chekhov to Munro

Chapter One

First love and other sorrows

Harold Brodkey

Toward the end of March, in St. Louis, slush fills the gutters, and dirty snow lies heaped alongside porch steps, and everything seems to be suffocating in the embrace of a season that lasts too long. Radiators hiss mournfully, no one manages to be patient, the wind draws tears from your eyes, the clouds are filled with sadness. Women with scarves around their heads and their feet encased in fur-lined boots pick their way carefully over patches of melting ice. It seems that winter will last forever, that this is the decision of nature and nothing can be done about it.

At the age when I was always being warned by my mother not to get overheated, spring began on that evening when I was first allowed to go outside after dinner and play kick-the-can. The ground would be moist, I'd manage to get muddy in spite of what seemed to me extreme precautions, my mother would call me home in the darkness, and when she saw me she would ask, "What have you done to yourself?" "Nothing," I'd say hopefully. But by the time I was sixteen, the moment when the year passed into spring, like so many other things, was less clear. In March and early April, track began, but indoors; mid-term exams came and went; the buds appeared on the maples, staining all their branches red; but it was still winter, and I found myself having feelings in class that were like long petitions for spring and all its works. And then one evening I was sitting at my desk doing my trigonometry and I heard my sister coming home from heroffice; I heard her high heels tapping on the sidewalk, and realized that, for the first time since fall, all the windows in the house were open. My sister was coming up the front walk. I looked down through a web of budding tree branches and called out to her that it was spring, by God. She shrugged—she was very handsome and she didn't approve of me—and then she started up the front steps and vanished under the roof of the porch.

I ran downstairs. "The bus was crowded tonight," my sister said, hanging up her coat. "I could hardly breathe. This is such a warm dress."

"You need a new spring dress," my mother said, her face lighting up. She was sitting in the living room with the evening paper on her lap.

She and my sister spread the newspaper on the dining-room table to look at the ads.

"We'll just have to settle for sandwiches tonight," my mother said to me. My father was dead, and my mother pretended that now all the cooking was done for my masculine benefit. "Look! That suit's awfully smart!" she cried, peering at the paper. "Montaldo's always has such nice suits." She sighed and went out to the kitchen, leaving the swinging door open so she could talk to my sister. "Ninety dollars isn't too much for a good suit, do you think?"

"No," my sister said. "I don't think it's too much. But I don't really want a suit this spring. I'd much rather have a sort of sky-blue dress—with a round neck that shows my shoulders a little bit. I don't look good in suits. I'm not old enough." She was twenty-two. "My face is too round," she added, in a low voice.

My mother said, "You're not too young for a suit." She also meant my sister was not too young to get married.

My sister looked at me and said, "Mother, do you think he shaves often enough? How often do you shave?"

"Every three days," I said, flushing up my neck and cheeks.

"Well, try it every other day."

"Yes, try to be neater," my mother said. "I'm sure girls don't like boys with fuzz on their chin."

"I think he's too proud of his beard to shave it," my sister said, and giggled.

"I feel sorry for the man who marries you," I said. "Because everybody thinks you're sweet and you're not."

She smiled pityingly at me, and then she looked down over the newspaper again.

Until I was four, we lived in a large white frame house overlooking the Mississippi River, south of St. Louis. This house had, among other riches, a porte-cochere, an iron deer on the lawn, and a pond with goldfish swimming in it. Once, I asked my mother why we had left that earlier house, and she said, "We lost our money—that's why. Your father was a very trusting man," she said. "He was always getting swindled."

She was not a mercenary woman, nor was she mean about money—except in spells that didn't come often—but she believed that what we lost with the money was much of our dignity and much of our happiness. She did not want to see life in a grain of sand; she wanted to see it from the shores of the Riviera, wearing a white sharkskin dress.

I will never forget her astonishment when she took us—she was dressed in her best furs, as a gesture, I suppose—to see the house that was to be our home from then on and I told her I liked it. It had nine rooms, a stained-glass window in the hall, and neighbors all up and down the block. She detested that house.

As she grew older, she changed, she grew less imperious. She put her hair into a roll, wore dark-colored clothes, said often, "I'm not a young woman any more," and began to take pride in being practical. But she remained determined; she had seen a world we didn't remember too clearly, and she wanted us to make our way back to it. "I had it all," she said once to my sister. "I was good-looking. We were rich. You have no idea what it was like. If I had died when I was thirty, I would have died completely happy. . . ."

My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead
Great Love Stories, from Chekhov to Munro
. Copyright © by Jeffrey Eugenides. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. <%END%>
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2008

    A reviewer

    After three and a half years of literature classes, I think my palate has finally been refined, and my taste for words has become crisp and delightful. When I saw the new title from Eugenides, my heart went to my throat. I could only fathom what new wonders he had in store fr us all! When I learned it was an anthology, I can honestly say it dropped.... but only a fraction. After reading all of his novels, and learning what the anthology was about, I had nothing but complete confidence that Eugenides could produce the most spell-binding collection of love (and loss) stories in literature. Many of the short stories I read (and fell in love with) during my college courses are those collected in Jeffrey Eugenides' anthology of love stories. Chekov, Faulkner, and Nabokov were always some of my favourite authors to read, but most favourite were their tormenting tales of love and loss. In this anthology, Eugenides has created a read that is sure to delight, as well as break the hearts of literature lovers worldwide. I purchased a copy for myself, then another for my parents, and yet a third for the literature professor who planted the seed in my mind only a few years ago. An outstanding gift for the likeminded souls in your life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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