More than eight years have passed since Deborah Eisenberg’s superb previous collection All Around Atlantis (1997), which she bookended with tales of a daughter struggling to assimilate her mother’s death and the secrets she took to the grave. The mordant, gorgeously written stories in Twilight of the Superheroes also offer up characters inscribed on a palimpsest of family friction and antique rupture, where the erasures are at once heartless and incomplete.
In “Some Other, Better Otto,” the title character’s semi-estrangement from his relatives drives him as crazy as his actual relatives do: “the subliminal concentration that was required to detach the stubborn prehensile hold was enough to wear a person right out.” In “Revenge of the Dinosaurs,” flaky Lulu returns to the home of the grandmother who raised her—a woman Lulu remembers as “shiny” and “amazing,” now imprisoned by strokes—and watches with flickering interest as an entire existence dissipates in real time, “[l]eaving nothing more than inscrutable little piles of commemorative trash.” In “Like It or Not,” a middle-aged schoolteacher visiting Italy broods on her dying ex-husband, who left her for a man some 15 years ago, the breakup yielding just “a residue of feeling . . . a sort of cold ash that faintly recorded their footsteps.” The historical ledger is wiped eerily clean, or so it seems. “Only sometimes at night she’d awaken as if falling from a ledge, crying out—landing hard against what her life had turned out to be.”
Much happens in Eisenberg’s stories, but often they don’t build toward a climax or cathartic revelation. Rather, they map and dig the terrain covered in the deliberations of a sleepless night, or trace the nubs and textures of a single, branching thought, one that tries to entwine and subdue an invincible question: How did I get here?