"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.
A Q&A with Jeffrey Eugenides
The author of bestsellers The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides talks about his turn as editor of My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead, with Andrea Hoag, a book critic in Lawrence, Kansas, whose reviews have appeared in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Film Comment, and Kirkus Reviews.
Q: What was the process of elimination like? Can you discuss which stories you decided to leave out?
A: The story I miss most is "Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx. I picked it, but we weren't able to the secure the rights to reprint it, even though the anthology supports a charitable cause. The UK edition lacks James Joyce's "The Dead" for similar reasons. (Happily, "The Dead" is in public domain in the U.S.) The first thing you confront when you compile an anthology like this, however, is the painful obligation to exclude wonderful work. Lots and lots of it. The only way I could sleep at night was to remind myself it was all for a good cause. How did I choose? The way people choose their mates: for intelligence, beauty, humor, and a sense that they'll be around for the long haul.
Q: You say in your introduction that "sober middle-age had made me less susceptible to [Nabokovs] lush lyricism." In a way, editing this collection brought you back into the proverbial fold where he was concerned. Why do you feel that he is "much better than everybody else "?
A: In all honesty, I was never out of the fold. Nabokov has always been and remains one of my favorite writers. He's able to juggle ten balls where most people can juggle three or four. "Spring in Fialta" works on so many levels: as an affecting tale of thwarted love; a reinactment of the literary process by which we fall victim to, and memorialize, our loves; and a philosophical rumination on time and fate. The sentences are perfect, the emotion deep, the intellectual scintillation nearly blinding. Pure bliss, in other words.
Q: Ive been building up an imaginary shrine in my home dedicated to the cult of Lorrie Moore and I almost wept when I read the line from "How to Be An Other Woman" that goes "he laughs, smooth, beautiful, and tenor, making you feel warm inside of your bones. And it hits you; maybe it all boils down to this: people will do anything, anything, for a really nice laugh...." I truly believe that. Dont you think most people--smart, thinking people--would do just about anything for someone with a nice laugh?
A: I'm glad you like the Lorrie Moore Story. Lorrie herself doesn't. She wrote it when she was twenty-four, and neither my own appreciation of the story, nor my assurances that many people insisted I include it, were enough to dissuade her from detesting her own "immature" work. This is a sign of a great writer, by the way. But "How to be An Other Woman" remains a great story. In addition, since a lot of the stories in the anthology share a traditional narrative structure, the Moore story comes as a nice shift in tone and strategy. I was conscious of that, too, in putting the book together, the DJ aspect of the whole thing, moving from fast numbers to slow dances and back again.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the charity the proceeds for this book will go to?
A: 826CHI is 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. Their services are structured around the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. 826CHI provides after-school tutoring, class field trips to our location, writing workshops, and in-schools programs--all free of charge--for students, classes, and schools in Chicago. All of the programs are challenging and enjoyable, and ultimately strengthen each students power to express ideas effectively, creatively, confidently, and in his or her individual voice. Driving the mission home are more than 500 volunteers--the professional writers, teachers and artists, to name a few, who staff each and every program enables 826 CHI to serve 5,000 students annually with a small, efficient staff of four and an operating budget of about $282,550.