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

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

by Jeffrey Eugenides


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"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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061240386
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/06/2009
Series: P.S.
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 837,483
Product dimensions: 5.38(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.97(d)

About the Author

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.


Princeton, NJ

Date of Birth:

March 8, 1960

Place of Birth:

Detroit, Michigan


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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My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead: Great Love Stories, from Chekhov to Munro 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
TessCallahan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Engaging anthology of classic and offbeat love stories by famous authors.
ValerieAndBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are 27 short stories in this anthology, and my copy totals 587 pages (including the introduction and the section that includes a brief biography of each contributor).The book¿s title is inspired from a passage by the Latin poet Catullus, who (according to the introduction) ¿was the first poet in the ancient world to write about a personal love affair in an extended way¿. Catullus was in love with a woman that he called ¿Lesbia¿, but who was really named Clodia (although exactly who Clodia was is still debated). Clodia was already married, and had a pet sparrow. Catullus wrote poetry about this sparrow:¿My girl¿s sparrow is dead,Sparrow, my girl¿s darling,Whom she loved more than her eyes¿ This book has a wide range of authors, some I had already heard of and/or read (i.e. Vladimir Nabokov, Milan Kundera, Anton Chekov). All are relatively contemporary short stories, having been written within the past 100 years or so.These stories are not ¿boy-meets-girl, lives happily-ever-after¿ type. Rather, they represent less than perfect people, who are often in less than perfect relationships. As Eugenides states in the introduction:¿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.We value love not because it¿s stronger than death but because it¿s weaker. Say what you want about love: death will finish it¿¿the perishable nature of love is what gives love its profound importance in our lives. If it were endless, if it were on tap, love wouldn¿t hit us the way it does¿.This is not to say cynically that true love does not exist; and it is not to say that there is no such thing as happy, content, fulfilling relationships. But, what makes stories memorable are those that have love that doesn¿t end happily ever after, or that has flawed love. Think Romeo and Juliet. Think Scarlett and Rhett (¿Gone With the Wind¿).So, how do the stories measure up, by literary merit? As with any anthology, there were a few I didn¿t care about (or did not find memorable), several that I thought were good, and a few that left quite an impression with me. Anyone who reads ¿My Mistress¿s Sparrow is Dead¿ will have their own favorites from this collection. I¿ll mention some of my favorites, with a quote from each one:¿First Love and Other Sorrows¿, by Harold Brodkey. This is one of a few teenage first-love stories in this anthology. The narrator is in love with a girl, Eleanor; and he is jealous of a popular boy at their school, Joel Bush. The narrator finds out that Eleanor went out on a date with Joel, and she describes this date to the narrator. I think the below passage describes so well the process of thought that many angst-y teenagers might have:¿ ¿We went out Sunday night¿¿ she began after a few seconds. They had gone to Medart¿s in Clayton, for a hamburger. Joel had talked her into drinking a bottle of beer, and it had made her so drowsy that she had put her head on the back of the seat and closed her eyes. ¿What kind of car does Joel have?¿ I asked.¿A Buick,¿ Eleanor said, surprised at my question.¿I see,¿ I said. I pictured the dashboard of a Buick, and Joel¿s handsome face, and then, daringly, I added Eleanor¿s hand, with its bitten fingernails, holding Joel¿s hand¿.Another teenage love story is ¿Natasha¿ by David Bezmozgis. This teenager is of Russian heritage, living in Toronto; and is a self-described stoner. An uncle of his has married again; this new wife, Zina, comes from Moscow bringing a daughter, Natasha, with her. Although Natasha is only 14 years old, before moving away from Moscow, she had gotten herself involved in child pornography because she needed the money. This teenage boy finds himself emotionally (and physically) involved with Natasha. They were basically thrown together by their families:¿Since I was home by myself I would be conscripted into performing
alissamarie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was probably the best Valentine's present ever. Almost 600 pages of classic and not-so-classic love stories, carefully edited by Eugenides, who is officially the best short-story anthology editor I've ever encountered (and not a half-bad novelist, either). The stories deal with "love" in all its forms, from lust to infatuation to romance to real true commitment, in marriage and outside marriage, old, young, beautiful and wince-inducing. Recommended to the married folks mostly. (Probably not a book to hand to your teenager, either.)
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Eugenides subtitles his book with the phrase ¿great love stories¿, but he cautions his readers in his introductory remarks that this is not a book of gooey, sappy stories. There are no happy endings here. But, unless you are a person who takes great pleasure in Harlequins, you will find every story a little masterpiece and you will ¿love¿ this book. (Remembering, of course, that ¿love¿, even the love of books, is not always a pleasant experience.)
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.