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Mr Jeffrey Eugenides On How To Write A Story

November 2017Words by Mr Adam Welch

Illustration by Mr Joe McKendry

Fresh Complaint, the first book of short stories from acclaimed novelist Mr Jeffrey Eugenides, has been many years in the making – it brings together work that spans the years from 1988 (five years before Mr Eugenides published his breakout debut novel The Virgin Suicides) to the present day. But Mr Eugenides is an artist who likes to take his time, and if that wasn’t clear enough from the long gaps between his novels – his Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex came almost a decade after The Virgin Suicides, in 2002, while his third novel, The Marriage Plot, followed in 2011, it’s certainly implied in his description of the story-writing process. “Nothing I've ever written has arrived in one piece,” he says. “If it did, I wouldn't trust it. I spent years on some of these stories, putting them away and taking them out again. A few came more quickly, but they all involved a measure or re-writing and editing.”

The book itself comprises a tightly edited selection of 10 stories, some previously published, some never-before seen. Some of the characters will be familiar for fans of Mr Eugenides work – Mitchell from The Marriage Plot appears in “Air Mail”; Dr Peter Luce from Middlesex in “The Oracular Vulva”. But new characters, too, arrive with their own rich, and often heartbreaking backstories: the protagonist of “Early Music” reminisces about a summer in Germany while preparing to default on the loan for his seldom-played clavichord; titular story “Fresh Complaint” follows an academic returning back to his family after being exonerated for a sexual assault charge. How did Mr Eugenides choose what to include? “The same way I choose clothes from MR PORTER,” he says. “By the quality of the material.” Such judiciousness is evident in the final package, which, we at MR PORTER can testify, is difficult to put down, filled as it is with warmth, humanity, and the sheer pleasure of reading Mr Eugenides’ incisively intelligent, but wonderfully direct prose. In honour of its release, we caught up with Mr Eugenides to ask his thoughts on the art of storytelling – scroll down for some choice words from a modern master of the form.

What do you enjoy about writing short stories?