Deborah Eisenberg’s Collected Stories, homes in on the time immediately preceding and following the September 11th attacks. The story goes far beyond this, however, as it crystallizes into a cogent mise-en-scène of American society at the end of the last millennium.
The “Superheroes”—four young, ambitious friends who gather together to sublet the absent Mr. Matsumoto’s fabulous Manhattan loft that Nathaniel’s benevolent Uncle Lucien has made available to them—exhibit the paramount American attributes of the “Age of Dross” as seen through the eyes of Nathaniel’s comic strip figure “Passivityman”: “a gift for exploiting systemic weaknesses,” “an obtuse, patrician equanimity in the face of damning fact,” and a “spectacular level of aggrievedness.” Over time, these “superhero” features—originally the key to the four friends’ easy success—metamorphose into a Venn diagram of rampant opportunism, unilateral rectitude, and isolationism. For his part, Passivityman—who has previously been “constantly vigilant against the premature conclusion, scrupulously rejecting the vulgar ambition, rigorously deferring judgment and action…and all for the greater good”—seems to have given in to political apathy. “His rallying cry, ‘no way,’ which once rang out over the land…has been altered by Captain Corporation’s co-optophone into, ‘whatever.’” And then came the attacks, which changed everything.
The future ahead of them, it’s now obvious, had itself been implied by a past; and the terrible day that had pointed them toward that future had been prepared for a long, long time, though it had been prepared behind 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 right behind it, of populations ruthlessly exploited, inflamed with hatred, and tired of waiting for change to happen by.
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