Jesse Eisenberg, recently in the spotlight for portraying journalist David Lipsky alongside Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace in the adaptation of Lipsky’s book about the five day road trip he took with Wallace following the release of Infinite Jest. The End of the Tour once again proved that Eisenberg is one of the most interesting actors of his generation. His acting style lends itself well to embodying an intelligent and creative persona as he demonstrated previously in his performance as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Eisenberg is a unique breed of actor, often times coming off as awkward and neurotic, yet, endearing and endlessly interesting at the same time. It is almost as if he is uncomfortable as an actor, but instead of being a hinderance, it makes him appear incredibly honest and believable. As Zuckerberg and then Lipsky, Eisenberg convinces audiences that he himself is filled with intelligence, and as Lipsky, forever interested in the fiction of David Foster Wallace, it is difficult to separate Lipky’s fascination with Wallace from Eisenberg’s own interest in fiction writers. Now, he has joined the likes of James Franco, Ethan Hawke, Carrie Fisher, and Hugh Laurie as actors who have dipped their feet into the world of fiction writing with the release of his first short story collection, Bream gives me hiccups & other stories.
Split into nine sections of widely varying page count, the collection offers a plethora of different structural styles and themes, some are conventional short stories and others can be loosely defined as a story. Coming together as a whole, it reveals itself as a young writer’s experimentation in the pursuit of finding his stride. Like his acting, its flaws and personal ticks provide the imperfections needed to give life and believability to the book in its full form.
The title story, Bream gives me hiccups, is the first and longest section in the collection. Divided into small clips from the first person perspective of a young boy, Eisenberg tries his hand at capturing a precocious voice. To provide wide cultural access to serve as the boy’s stage, readers are invited to experience the boy’s interactions with his mother at various restaurants in the form of a child’s restaurant reviews. It is hard not to draw comparisons to Oskar Schell from Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, as the restaurant reviewer has the same conversational style with the reader as well as unique, sometimes annoying intelligence that presents itself as endless curiosity about the world around him. Still, by using the young narrator, Eisenberg includes humor that is only acceptable from a child while also showcasing the naivety and innocence that is a young mind.
Stepping outside of normal structure in the second section about family, there is a story told entirely through text messages, another through emails, and one particularly interesting one told in blocks of time throughout one day at a peculiar summer camp. Next, a section on history deploys the use of the dramatic form which is not entirely surprising considering that Eisenberg has written three plays. He goes back through time, envisioning serious issues in a light-hearted manner to suggest that laughter sometimes really is the best medicine. In the fourth section, he enters the epistolary format presenting letters written by a lost freshman in college. As a sort of reminder of the difficulty of dating, the fifth section revolves people who have an especially difficult time finding love whether that be because of physical appearance or their mental and emotional states. Briefly tackling sports in the sixth section, basketball star Carmelo Anthony plays a pickup game with regular guys, providing sizable laughs. A fresh spin on self-help is offered in the seventh section where Eisenberg teaches us that smiling deceives the brain into being happy. Taking a stab at the evolution of language, Eisenberg follows history as it heads towards the digital age in the eighth section, covering the ways in which words have gained new meaning from technological advancements. And in the final section, Eisenberg assumes his day job as an actor, taking his bow as the curtain comes down on the stage, thanking the audience for their time.
The forty-four short pieces in this collection are not extraordinary when examined on a story by story basis, but when it is all wrapped together, there is something oddly heartfelt and admirable about Eisenberg’s debut collection. His foray into fiction certainly has numerous flaws and shortcomings, but compared to other actors who have written fiction, Eisenberg seems as if he could actually create something truly remarkable. Overflowing with potential, the collection is comedic, ambitious, and displays a vast array of talents, some fully realized and others still seeking emergence. His prose is conversational, full of wit and charm, and brimming with life. Bream gives me hiccups & other stories is a surprisingly solid work of fiction from one of America’s most interesting actors. And it is important to note that while his status as a celebrity probably contributed to his publishing contract, Jesse Eisenberg has proven with this versatile collection that his fiction can stand on its contents alone.
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