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My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro [Paperback]

Jeffrey Eugenides
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Jan 2009

A wide-ranging and eclectic collection of short stories on the theme of love in its various forms: romantic, erotic, impossible, undying and exhausted.

No other aspect of the human experience regularly inspires such an outpouring of poetry, prose and philosophy as love. From passionate declarations to clinical analysis, writers of every age have been fascinated, tormented and inspired by love.

This beautifully produced collection of short stories will combine the best of contemporary and classic fiction on the theme of love, from Catullus to Alice Munro. Edited and introduced by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of ‘Middlesex’, this wonderfully heterodox look at love will include, amongst others, ‘A Rose for Emily’ by William Faulkner, ‘The Lady with the Lapdog’ by Anton Chekhov and stories by Lorrie Moore, Milan Kundera and Guy de Maupassant.

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My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro + The Marriage Plot + Middlesex
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Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (5 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007291108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007291106
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 76,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


‘[A] brilliant collection of love stories…An absolute must-read.’ Harper’s Bazaar, Editor’s picks of the month

‘Better than a bunch of flowers, if not so sweet.’ Metro

‘Eugenides has written a marvellous little essay on the love story to introduce his choices… an outstanding collection.’ Joanna Trollope, The Times

‘[Eugenides’s] artful arrangement of the stories adds to their pleasure. The collection is full of intriguing echoes that complement…one’s responses.’ Sunday Telegraph

‘There are plenty of stories here which any lover of good writing – if not perhaps every lover – will enjoy.’ Scotsman

‘Pick up this beautiful new edition…a well-chosen collection of love stories edited by Pulitzer prize-winner Jeffrey Eugenides.’ Daily Mail

‘A delicious confection of classical and contemporary love stories.’ Observer

From the Publisher

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 [Nabokov’s] 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 re-enactment of the literary process by which we fall victim to, and memorialise, 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: I’ve 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. Don’t 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 student’s 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.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem of a book 23 Jan 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was blown away by the stories in this book, not only because the quality of the writing was so high but because of the variety of story offered. There are stories you will probably have come across before like Chekhov's 'The Lady with the Little Dog' but there are also more unusual ones by great writers like Nabokov's 'Spring in Fialta'. There are traditional, modern and post-modern stories, short and long stories, some of them very moving, and they reveal so many different kinds of love. In his introduction Jeffrey Eugenides makes an interesting distinction between love as a subject and the love story. He offers this fat book of stories, he says, as a "cure for lovesickness and an antidote to adultery." He suggests reading them "in the safety of your single bed" and letting "everybody else suffer". Me, I suffered with the people in the stories. All great stuff!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely 22 Jan 2010
I have to admit that I'm a bit biased: I would probably buy a grocery list if Jeffrey Eugenides wrote it. That being said, I've had my eye on this book for ages and I absolute love it. This collection is superb--the stories are funny, poignant, and oftentimes quite punishing, but always worth the effort. In his excellent introduction, Eugenides explains that for him, love stories by default "give love a bad name". So, if you're looking for Nicholas Sparks-type love stories you won't find them here. Instead, there's a brooding and psychological pseudo-thriller by Milan Kundera, a well-known Southern Gothic, an Orwellian contribution by George Saunders, and countless others that traverse the impossibly broad topic of love. Many are coming-of-age tales, while others are steeped in memory and loss. Still others explore seemingly forbidden territory, adopting the point of view of the other woman or the scorned lover. Classic and contemporary, American and transatlantic, hetero and homosexual: this book is simply brilliant.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By purplepadma VINE VOICE
I purchased this some time ago, and it's been waiting patiently on my bookshelves before being tossed into my suitcase as a last minute back-up holiday read. Upon starting it, I cursed myself for ignoring it for so long, because right from the opener (Harold Brodkey's "First Love and Other Sorrows") this collection is short-story writing at its best. As Jeffrey Eugenides explains in his introduction, he has not selected stories where the lovers are instantly fulfilled and live happily ever after. In his view, "the happy marriage, the requited love, the desire that never dims - these are lucky eventualities but they aren't love stories ... love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name." Here, then, we see love as suffering, love as missed opportunity, as a beautiful dream which can never be played out, due to the impossible circumstances of real life. Eugenides has chosen teenages unable to consummate their lust, and placed them next to middle-aged marrieds unable to afford divorce, a lodgers who becomes smitten with his landlord's wife, and a husband who loses his wife's love to Alzheimer's disease.

My personal favourites were Deborah Eisenburg's "Some Other, Better Otto" and Alice Munro's "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" - Eugenides calls these the bleakest of the collection (although to my mind Denis Johnson's "Dirty Wedding" and David Gates' "The Bad Thing" are far bleaker, far harder to reconcile with my own understanding of the term "love.") George Saunder's "Jon" I had come across before, but re-read and with great admiration. I have to confess to abandoning both Nabokov's "Spring in Fialta" and Robert Musil's "Tonka"; perhaps I just couldn't cope with shift in style. My lack of enjoyment of these stories is my only reason for rating this collection as a four-star read; but the remaineder I found though-provoking, often exquisitely written, and sometimes profoundly moving.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Quirky and wonderfully varied, these 'love stories' are about every possible aspect of love, not just love in a romantic, soppy sense - although there is that too. A range of stories from all range of eras, from very different writers. All beautifully chosen. The stories are carefully arranged, with some themes echoing throughout the book.

'A love story can never be about full possession,' says Eugenides. 'The happy marriage, the requited love, the desire that never dims - these are lucky eventualities but they aren't love stories.' That should give you an idea of how he's gone about compiling this fantastic collection.

This is very much NOT a 'happily ever after' book - beware if you plan to make a romantic gift of this! (Although personally I would be delighted to be given this, it isn't strictly romantic, I suspect.) Instead, it's a reflection on love and the human condition in all its varied, sometimes odd glory. Manages to fit in everything from adultery and loss to silly, giggly young love and lasting marriage - and other things in between.

From the classic to the contemporary, My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead is full of wonderful stories - Raymond Carver, Chekhov, Eileen Change and many more. Not exactly love stories, but stories that will make you laugh, cry, wonder and think about love...
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