Title: Bream Gives Me Hiccups and Other Stories
Author: Jesse Eisenberg
Release Date: September 8
Publisher: Bond Street Books
Source: Grove Atlantic on NetGalley (A copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.)
Check this book out on Goodreads.
The series of stories that gives the book its unusual title are written from the point of view of a nine-year-old boy whose mother brings him to expensive Los Angeles restaurants so that she can bill her ex-husband for the meals. One story in the “Bream Gives Me Hiccups” series begins: “Last night, Mom and I went to Thanksgiving dinner at a Vegan family’s house, which is kind of like going to Temple for Christmas. Mom said that Vegans are ‘people that don’t eat any meat or cheese or shave.'” Another series of stories are letters written by a university student to her high school counselor as she grows gradually more unhinged. Other stories imagine discussions in ancient Pompeii just before the volcanic eruption, explore the vagaries of post-gender-normative dating in New York City, and conjure up Alexander Graham Bell’s first five phone calls: “Have you heard anything from Mabel? I’ve been calling her all day, she doesn’t pick up! Yes, of course I dialed the right number–2!” Plus there is an email exchange between a boy and his girlfriend taken over by his sister who is obsessed with the Bosnian genocide, an ex-husband reviewing his wife’s book online, and Marxist-Socialist jokes, including: “What do you get when you cross a Marxist with a Socialist? Two people who generally feel that the value of a commodity is equal to its socially necessary labor time.” In different ways, the stories explore what it means to navigate the modern world, and are all illuminated by Eisenberg’s ironic wit and fantastically funny and original voice. (Source: Goodreads)
This collection of short stories and humor piece by Jesse Eisenberg features work he has already published in other sources, like McSweeney’s, and some new content that was previously unreleased. Eisenberg’s writing features social commentary that mostly reflects a certain lifestyle in New York but also various other social commentaries can be seen.
I was a big fan of Eisenberg’s Bream Gives Me Hiccups series over on McSweeney’s so I got really excited when I saw this was coming out in a book. I generally enjoyed Eisenberg’s sort of dry sense of humor and really enjoy his social commentaries, though I’m not always certain I’m understanding everything he’s commenting on because it’s often a specific sort of New York commentary that I’m not super familiar with. I found this book pretty funny, it was divided into 9 parts. To me the strongest was the first part, and after that things sort of slid a bit which left me a little disappointed. I’ll work through each section in order.
The first section “Bream Gives Me Hiccups” was the strongest section of the book overall. This section features the original stories that Eisenberg wrote for McSweeney’s wherein a 9 year old boy reviews places he’s eaten in. The reviews all act as social commentaries, often looking at familial relationships as the boy deals with his own broken family situation. I think these are absolutely hilarious while also being quite depressing sometimes. These have always been some of my favourite things on McSweeney’s and I loved reading the new ones at the end of the section. This is some of the strongest writing in the book as it doesn’t drag on.
The second section “Family” was pretty funny. The humor is, in general, pretty similar to that seen in the first section. There’s a lot of introspective social commentary running throughout these and Eisenberg makes good use of intelligent humor, often making historically minded and socially minded jokes. My favourite of these pieces was probably “An E-mail Exchange with my First Girlfriend”. I thought this one was hilarious and the humor was so intelligent.
The third section was “History”. I thought this part was still quite funny, though some of the jokes were a little overused and played out like the “Marxist-Socialist Jokes”. Still, it was funny with similar tones to the previous sections. For me the irony of the “Final Conversations at Pompeii” was probably the strongest bit in this section of the book.
The fourth section was “My Roommate Stole My Ramen”. This was a section similar to the first in that it was one column essentially, a running gag based on the same character. I found it funny, but as it dragged on and on it became kind of annoying and increasingly difficult to read. This was probably the turning point for me as I quickly started to lose interest in the book at this point. I found Harper’s voice difficult to cope with and while the idea was to poke fun at the idiocy of her character it seemed to fade into itself and become the thing it was mocking. The letters were generally too long as well and became incredibly obnoxious.
The fifth section was “Dating”. I had read some of these before and it was nice to reread them as they were funny social commentaries on gender roles and dating rules. I did find this section a bit “one note” as the pieces were formulaic with inserted jokes for each changing set of things being commented on. Wasn’t the strongest section because of this.
The next section was “Sports”. I found this section funny but I don’t know that I know enough about the things that were being joked about. I didn’t recognize the names of anyone being referenced. I did find it fairly funny still and was especially laughing at the second piece as it was more universally funny than the other two pieces.
Section seven, “Self Help”, was funny but not as strong as the earlier sections of the book. I liked the first and third piece the most, as they were universally funny by comparison. The second piece “If She Ran into me Now” felt a little American Psycho-esque to me, which made it funny but a little more on the unsettling side.
The next section was “Language”. This was probably the strongest section of the second half of the book. I found all of these pieces funny except for the “Tongue Twisters” piece which was weak by comparison. These were all great commentaries on various themes. “My Spam Plays Hard to Get” was probably my favourite of them all.
Finally, “Only Time for One More” was a weak note to finish on. It was funny but not a strong or punchy piece. It left me dangling a bit and I felt like it made the book fall a bit flat.
For me the order of the pieces left the book in kind of a weird place. The whole book was funny but the order of things left things feeling a little flat and disappointing because the strongest stuff opened the book and a lot of the weaker stuff was at the end. I still really enjoyed and recommend this book, I just think it could have used a little reordering and editing.