Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Twilight of the Superheroes"

There are no dull moments in “Twilight of the Superheroes,” the title story of Deborah Eisenberg’s new story collection.

The italicized surreal prologue reads like science fiction. On New Year’s Eve in 1999, people all over the planet anticipate Y2K, the widely predicted computer breakdown that fails to happen. Nathaniel, the author of a comic strip, PASSIVITYMAN, tells his grandchildren about the millennium.

“It must be hard for you to imagine--it’s even hard for me to remember--but people hadn’t been using computers for very long. As far as I know, my mother (your great-grandmother) never even touched one! And no one had thought to inform the computers that one day the universe would pass from the years of the one thousands into the years of the two thousands. So the machines, as these experts suddenly realized, were not equipped to understand that at the conclusion of 1999 time would not start over from 1900, time would keep going.”

Nothing came of Y2K. No disaster happened. Nathaniel, who had spent the evening partying with friends, awoke with a hangover.

But in 2001 Nathaniel, his friends, and his uncle Lucien, an art gallery manager who had found him a loft apartment sublet, witnessed the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Lucien, mourning not only his dead wife but the death of history as he understood it, tries to analyze the meaning of events and to brace himself for the future.

“But the future actually ahead of them, it’s now obvious, had itself been implied by a past; and the terrible day that pointed them toward that future had been prepared for a long, long time, though it had been prepared behind a curtain.

“It was as if there had been a curtain, a curtain painted with the map of the earth, its oceans and continents, with Lucien’s delightful city. The planes struck, tearing through the curtain of that blue September morning, exposing the dark world that lay behind it, of populations ruthlessly exploited, inflamed with hatred, and tired of waiting for change to happen by.”

The curtain imagery is reminiscent of the Iron Curtain imagery that dominated the ‘50s and “60s. It seems appropriate.

While Lucien tries to make sense of current events, his nephew Nathaniel, a newcomer to New York City, becomes depressed and loses his sense of creativity. Instead of concentrating on his career, he dreams about Delphine, a cosmopolitan woman who had tolerated him and allowed him to sleep in her apartment while the debris from the Twin Towers was cleaned from his loft. He must also leave the loft that has been his home, because the owner is returning.

A sad, moving, brilliant story, characterized by arresting imagery and insights.

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