Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Jesse Eisenberg: "Bream Gives Me Hiccups, and Other Stories": little pieces of satire from impressionable young minds

Author: Jesse Eisenberg

Title: “Bream Gives Me Hiccups, and Other Stories

Publication: 2015: New York, Grove Press, ISBN 978-0-8021-2404-3, 273 pages, hardcover (also ebook), in nine sections with 39 “chapters”

Amazon link

First of all, let’s talk about the title.  “Bream” is a kind of freshwater fish (not necessarily “free fish”), and the title of the first of nine sections is “Bream Gives Me Hiccups: Restaurant Reviews from a Privileged Nine-Year-Old”. 

That section, which has about eight “reviews” (not exactly Yelp style), not listed in the book TOC, is followed by eight more topical parts, the longest of which is “My Roommate Stole My Ramen: Letters from a Frustrated Freshman” (and that freshman surely is not Jack Andraka currently at Stanford – see March 18). I had to look up “the food” (ramen) in Wikipedia. I thought about slurping borscht in Ukrainian restaurants on 2nd Avenue in the East Village near the Ninth Street Center back in the 1970s.

I should mention the most interesting of the reviews: perhaps “Thanksgiving with Vegans”, or “Robert Frost Elementary School Cafeteria” (when I substitute-taught, the cafeteria meals in the mid 2000’s in northern VA were fat-filled and awful), or “The Ashram and Mom”, an intentional community requiring deep ritualistic participation and banning cell phones.  (I recall a 1970s book about the Hidden Valley ashram in Peru on the Altiplano where all the men had to look the same, rather like Franciscans.)

The other sections (like “Family”, “Dating”, “Self-Help”, “Language”) are broken into little stores, a few of which are set up nineteenth-century style in letters, and others are set up as dramatic skits (almost suitable for FinalDraft), at least one of which is set up to look like verse or a poem for literature class in freshman English (which even Jack has to take, despite having written a book himself).

Sometimes Eisenberg really makes fun of the way we squirm at sensitive issues, like the carnage in Bosnia during the Clinton years, or female clitoral mutilation as a ritual in some African societies. At least once he talks about male physical attractiveness – his – as he thinks women should perceive it.
The common element in all of these morsels is a kind of “word salad” on the way kids, tweens, and real teens (and college students and emerging young adults up to the author’s age, now 32) seize on their perceptions of the biased expectations they think the world has of them.  He makes it look pretty much the same in the straight world (which he inhabits) as the gay world I “live” in – because I came from the straight world.  I’ve done similar writing, over longer narratives in one setting – like the first “fiction” story in my third “Do Ask, Do Tell” book (check Amazon), pp. 209-256, a quasi-fictive account of my 1968 experience with Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, SC.  There’s another book on this subject that did that, “The Sunshine Soldiers”, by Peter Tauber, 1973, republished in 2003 by Higganum Hill Books.

Somehow this book reminds me of Thomas Carlye's experiemental "Sartor Resartus" (Dec. 2, 2013).  The language does get explicit and sharp, but English professors might find Eisemberg's writing experiment interesting to teach. 

And, by the way, when I lived in the Cast Iron Building in the 1970s, I was a few doors down from Grove Press.

Eisenberg is said to be negotiating a series of comedy videos to be sold on Amazon Prime, based on the book, maybe a bit like "The Power Inside" (TV, Spet. 13, 2013). 
Wikipedia gives an interesting account of Mr. Eisenberg, including his fostering of animals (especially cats) and vegan diet.

No comments: