Bream Gives Me Hiccups, by Jesse Eisenberg, via Doubleday Canada, out now.
[I received this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review; this did not affect my opinion of the book whatsoever.]
For some reason, it seems actor/writer Jesse Eisenberg’s first book of short stories has flown under the radar. It would do well in the spotlight though; Jesse’s writing is quick, smart and quite funny, and it would be great for his audience to see this other side of him.
I’ve never really been a fan of his because he always plays annoying characters. (Note: I’ve have not read his plays.) But once I saw The Double, he changed my perspective of him. That role felt like it was written for him – he was fidgety, paranoid and depressed – and he played it so well. (Plus, that movie is awesome. Now I want to watch it again. Thank you, Richard Ayoade!) I was very interested when I found out Jesse was writing short stories. (I guess people will see this as following a potential new trend of celebrity writers indulging in short stories, a la BJ Novak’s One More Thing.)
Each story in Bream Gives Me Hiccups brings you into the psyches of terrible people. The kind of people who are selfish, oblivious and rude. The kind of people you would never be friends with, and cringe at the things they say. But it’s hilarious to read because so much of it rings true. Jesse has a great talent in spitting out amazing societal observations. If you’re not paying attention, you might miss it. The best example of this is in the book’s opening section, and my favourite part of the book, Restaurant Reviews From a Privileged Nine-Year-Old. (You know that’ll be awesome just by its title.) Jesse’s voice is so comfortable and innocent as this small boy who goes out to dinner with his alcoholic, racist divorcee mom who will only take him out because his father will pay for it. I snorted and giggled a lot through these stories!
In one, at a sushi restaurant:
I understand why the people who work here are so angry. I guess it’s like working at a gas station, but instead of cars, they have to fill up people. And people eat slowly and talk about their stupid lives at the table and make each other laugh, but when the waiters come by, the people at the table stop laughing and become quiet like they don’t want to let anyone else know about their great jokes.
In one, at a bar, when his mom takes him along on a date:
Last night, Mom took me to a bar called the Whiskey Blue Bar, which sounds like a fun blue place but is actually a scary dark place where drunk people wear lots of makeup and pretend like they’re happy by talking loudly.
The restaurant reviews were the strongest part of the book, though. Nothing after it could compare for me. There were definitely stories that I liked and laughed at, such as one in which a mother loudly yammers on to her son while at the ballet:
Why can’t you show up on time like a normal person? You’d think you’d be able to be here early since you’re not coming from a job, a girlfriend, any kind of rich social life or commitment to public service. Anyway, I’m glad you’re here. Give me a kiss.
Or one in which a man completely falls apart under the guise of ‘smiling tricks your brain into being happy’:
For example, after I lost my job, I couldn’t pay my rent. But instead of feeling sorry for myself or frantically looking for a cheap sublet, I just made the face of someone who had paid their rent and, though it didn’t happen right away, I started to feel like I actually did pay my rent.
But with one terrible person after the next, and a similar writing style throughout, it began to feel a bit tiring by the time you pass a section of emails from a sad, inconsiderate girl at college to her high school counsellor. So for that, I’d suggest perhaps reading one story at a time once in a while, rather than everything all at once.
Bream Gives Me Hiccups is a fun fall read – don’t let it pass you by!