Short story collections often feel like dining out on small plates: Some dishes are uniquely memorable, some redolent of past repasts, and after enough of them, you’re fully fed. Deborah Eisenberg’s new collection, “Your Duck Is My Duck,” is more like successive entrees, each so rich and filling that it requires ample time to digest.
The book, her first new collection in 12 years, comprises six engrossing stories that impart so much, it is hard to believe you have spent just 20 or 30 pages with the characters. Such dense, broad writing also makes it difficult to concisely explain her work.
“Taj Mahal” relates the heyday of a group of aging actors by eavesdropping on their reactions to a memoir written by a child who grew up in their midst. The conversations feel like they could be overheard anywhere in NYC, if only you were in the right booth at the right time.
The fault and fungibility of memory also plays a key role in “Recalculating,” a poignant story about a young man who travels to Europe for the funeral of an uncle he never knew.
In “The Third Tower,” all that matters is the present day for a 17-year-old girl institutionalized for some disease, which may simply be creativity.
Both that story and “Merge,” the only one not previously published in a literary journal, have trace fantastical elements that make you question what you’re reading. “Merge” has an epigraph from President Donald Trump, who looms over its discussion of how language enables “malice, vengefulness and greed — humanity’s most consistent attributes.”
These stories are more bleak than upbeat, but even in “Cross Off and Move On,” about a girl who grows up with a self-hating Jewish mother, “the chilly plan” of the future is related with great warmth and beauty.