Twilight of the Superheroes Stories

Deborah Eisenberg




Trade Paperback

240 Pages



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A PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
An Atlantic Monthly Book of the Year
A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year

In her newest collection, Deborah Eisenberg demonstrates her abilities in precisely distilled studies of an American reality that has become increasingly chaotic, brutal, and out of control, both personally and politically. From a group of variously ambitious friends delighted to find a luxurious sublet just across from the World Trade Center in the year 2000; to a family whose tranquility is strangely poisoned by its years spent in poor foreign lands; to the too-painful love of a brother for his schizophrenic sister, whose life embitters him to the very idea of family, Eisenberg widens her range to focus her eye on a terrifying contemporary world in which "everything that happens is out there waiting for you to come to it."


Praise for Twilight of the Superheroes

"Deborah Eisenberg offers commanding proof that in the right hands, the short story can be a legitimate art form, not just a test run for writers warming up to write a novel . . . There aren't many contemporary novels as shudderingly intimate and mordantly funny as Eisenberg's best stories, and her latest collection, her fifth in 20 years, should finally establish her as one of the most important fiction writers now at work . . . Eisenberg has given is these remarkable stories, machines of perfect revelation deftly constructed by a contemporary master."—Ben Marcus, The New York Times Book Review

"As Eisenberg publishes Twilight of the Superheroes, her fourth and most fully realized collection, the literary fashion for austerity has given way to a reengagement with the big, the discursive, the ambitious, to a more copious treatment of character and its points of connection to a larger world . . . Although Eisenberg's urge to place her characters in a social context is . . . political, the political dimension of her fiction is less defining than the fact that her larger world is always the interior one, the unmapped psychic territory that crisis brings to light . . . Sometimes writers, without changing what they do, seem to arrive at their moment. Eisenberg is true only to her character's perspective, and that perspective now seems truer than ever to our own. There is a certain humility in seeing only as one character sees, in standing, as the author of a fictional world, not above that world but in it."—Jonathan Dee, Harper's Magazine

"The title story of Deborah Eisenberg's masterly new collection takes place in a millennial New York City, cutting backward and forward in time to give the reader glimpses of that metropolis before and after 9/11 . . . Using her playwright's ear for dialogue and a journalistic eye for the askew detail, Ms. Eisenberg gives us—in just a handful of pages—a visceral sense of these characters' daily routines, the worlds they inhabit and the families they rebel against or allow to define them. By moving fluently back and forth between the present and the past, she shows how memories and long ago events shadow current decisions, how the gap between expectations and reality grows ever wider as the years scroll by. Instead of forcing her characters' stories into neat, arbitrary, preordained shapes, she allows them to grow organically into oddly shaped, asymmetrical narratives—narratives that possess all the surprising twists and dismaying turns of real life."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"For the past two decades, Deborah Eisenberg has had to content herself with being esteemed rather than merely famous. Her stories are careful chronicles of contemporary life, unfolding from the prismatic perspective of a narrator both wise and intimate with her characters. The quality is what you might call high realism, a definition necessary only because so many other unreal states have crowded the genre. The voice is knowing, even insinuating, but there's a regard for humanity that keeps the somber cast of her stories from taking over. She writes . . . in the tradition of the old story lovers like William Trevor and Lorrie Moore, connected mostly by their pristine craft and respect for the thickness of the form. . . Her stories reveal all the steely beauty of a knife wrapped in velvet."—Gail Caldwell, The Boston Globe

"Eisenberg's . . . collection of stories confirms her talent for fiction that, like Chekhov's, insinuate you right into the character's gnarled hearts, by methods so subtle and slippery that you're not sure where you are or how you got there."—Lisa Zeidner, The Washington Post Book World

"That's how it is for the people in Eisenberg's new book of stories, Twilight of the Superheroes. They meander with little purpose through their mystifying days, gazing toward sprawling futures full of nothing in particular, blinking like newborn mice as they watch their accidental comforts—the swank apartment, the too-good wine, the little blue-painted, rent-free room—evaporate as comforts always do . . . But Eisenberg, with her wide embrace of metaphor and keen sense of the eternal—the endlessly renewing cycle of human puttering—understands that behind every unexceptional face are notions and visions no one else has ever known. Eisenberg has long been in the business of elevating regular folk to literary status. Her stories are so skillfully crafted that they seem composed more of shapes and textures than of printed words."—Judith Lewis, Los Angeles Times

"With every story in this superb new collection, Deborah Eisenberg, one of America's finest writers, offers new ways of seeing and feeling, as if something were begin perfected at the core. The half-dozen long stories here put her light-years ahead of most story writers in terms of capturing the feeling tones of the world around us and the people in it . . . Her stories are driven by emotive perceptions, as though the usual compact and condensed emotions of a classic epiphany were suffused throughout an entire 20- or 30- or 40-page tale."—San Francisco Chronicle

"An irresistible new story collection . . . Eisenberg is a magician . . . [She] has created a grim, scary, random universe, and when you finish the book your first impulse is to go back and read it again."—David Gates, Newsweek

"A tender, skeptical, inconsolable embrace of what cannot be changed . . . The book stands not just as a collection of disparate stories. It is more—it is a whole: a thoughtful, impeccably intelligent and witty tale of maturity, and what maturity, sadly, happily, leaves behind . . . Even her treatment of the terrorist attacks of September 11, a subject far too raw for most writers to handle without self-important vulgarity, is done with such allusive reserve that the immensity of the tragedy is allowed to take its own true shape beyond the edges of the page. This book is without doubt Eisenberg's best."—Cathleen Schine, The New York Review of Books

"The deepest pleasure in Ms. Eisenberg's stories is their vertiginous unpredictability, like obstacle courses the author jumps and rolls and shimmies through . . . The stories in Twilight of the Superheroes force an unwelcome recognition that we all play a part in the world's misery. Whether we play a part in its joy is less certain. Despite the somber theme, these are fearless, fierce, light-bearing stories, offered in defense of what still matters."—Regina Marler, The New York Observer

"Eisenberg offers enough insight and intelligent observations to amply justify her reputation as the American Alice Munro."—The Christian Science Monitor

"In her new book, her best, she spins six intricate, fully realized short fictions, several of novella length . . . A rich, subtle, enlivening work that will, I wager, withstand the unforeseen assaults of time."—Haim Chertok, Congress Monthly

"With gratitude . . . we turn to Deborah Eisenberg's collection Twilight of the Superheroes. Eisenberg's stories, like Alice Munro's, are unfashionably long . . . Other authors seem sometimes not to have bothered considering the more complicated, human consequences of their literary conceits because they were restricting themselves to fifteen manuscript pages. Unfazed by any such limit, Eisenberg allows consequences to evolve, to evoke new actions, to reveal truths that surprise us even as we recognize she was aiming at this revelation all along. She has lived with these stories, come to know the warp and woof of their fabric, and so we are quickly persuaded to put ourselves in her hands . . . The delightful language here—its assonances and consonances, the deadly irony of that exclamation point—lets the reader enjoy the music of Eisenberg's knife. More to the point . . . we are not watching [a character] get his comeuppance, but present in the moment when love and its silent companion, mortality, briefly extract the protagonist's gall from his decent heart . . . Eisenberg thus becomes, in Chekov's phrase, one of those writers who intoxicate us. It is a seduction hard earned. When giving their quirky ideas a chance to play on the page, other writers would do well to consider how these stories, at their great length, skim along, whereas others much shorter make the reader feel as though she were clearing brush from every step of the path . . . The two or three best stories is Eisenberg's collection seem not only motivated by their necessities, but necessary, whereas the lesser stories discussed above seem at best ornamental. And is it not true, of our finest short fictions, that they become for their readers like breath and heartbeat?"—Lucy Ferriss, Michigan Quarterly Review

"Eisenberg's filament-thin weavings of desire, obligation, and missed opportunities remind one strongly of Henry James; and in her language and sense of fractured consciousness she also has a close relation with Virginia Woolf: Like both, she tends to cover the anxious failures of the well to do. These stories are intense, invariably erotic, and thoroughly startling. Eisenberg is a master of condensation and reconstruction, making beautiful murals from broken glass."—Vince Passaro, O magazine

"Ms Eisenberg's collection contains several portraits of contemporary distress that are unmatched in recent American fiction."—Ben Lytal, The New York Sun

"Complex relationships and troubling histories are skillfully telescoped in Eisenberg's new collection of six urbane, probing stories. Contemporary angst is sharply portrayed when a shallow young woman joins an unpleasant family reunion called to deal with her stroke-ridden grandmother, a formerly brilliant, active woman who's now a helpless (though not clueless) ruin ('Revenge of the Dinosaurs'), and in the title story about four Manhattan 'friends' who sublet a spacious, perfect apartment, until 9/11 destroys their insular 'world' along with the larger one they only dimly inhabit . . . [T]he gem is 'Some Other, Better Otto,' a stunning exfoliation of emotional detail in which a 60ish attorney, unstrung by the demands and needs of his scattered siblings, receives more compassion and understanding than he yearns for or deserves from his endlessly kind, selfless male lover . . . [T]his [collection] is one fine source for Woody Allen to mine for his next New York movie."—Kirkus Reviews

"Short-story master Eisenberg delivers, with signature intelligence and humor, six elegant, soulful new tales in her fifth book of stories. In a nuanced and compassionate family portrait, 'Some Other, Better Otto,' complex expressions of love and despair circle around a high-strung brother and his prodigiously talented, mentally ill sister. Several other stories also portray families pulling simultaneously apart while cleaving together, but each character and each motive is unique in Eisenberg's hands . . . The author is at the top of her form delving into the varied but devastating truth that, even after an apocalypse, people still have to lie in the beds they've made, unable to sleep. A terrific addition to the oeuvre of one of America's finest and most deeply empathetic short story writers."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Deborah Eisenberg

  • Deborah Eisenberg is the author of six previous collections of stories. The recipient of many awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship, a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, a Rea Award, and a Whiting Writers' Award, she lives in New York City and teaches at the University of Virginia.

  • Deborah Eisenberg Diana Michener