Deborah Eisenberg’s “Twilight of the Superheroes”

Please address at least one of the following questions in your response.  Remember to keep this brief–about a paragraph or so in length.

1) Why do you think Eisenberg structured the story as she did?

2) On a sentence level, this story contains a very high number of exclamations and italicized words and phrases.  What’s the effect of this stylistic choice on you as a reader, and why do you think Eisenberg chose it?

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26 responses to “Deborah Eisenberg’s “Twilight of the Superheroes”

  1. I think Eisenberg structured the story the way she did because it made it an easier read and allowed me to explore into the minds of many characters as opposed to just a single character. Also, it created suspense, but in a good way. I wasn’t upset that a story got cut off and I had to read about a different character, I just kept reading because I was attached to all the characters.

    This story contains a very high number of exclamations and italicized words and phrases. This made me feel that the words that were italicized were more important and the emphasis of the story and I think this is what Eisenberg was trying to accomplish.

  2. Thanks, Amina. Good point that the structure creates suspense. Others, what are your thoughts on the italicized words and phrases? Are they the most important in the story, or do they convey something important about the various characters, for example?

  3. 1) The structure is unique. I agree with Amina. The structure makes it an easier read for the reader. It first talks about the end of the world coming. Then, the story is subdivided into headings. The headings gives the reader an insight as to what is going to happen next. For example, the heading “Reunion” talks about Charlie’s reunion with Lucien. There are a lot of characters and a lot of different events that start and end unexpectadly. Without the headings, the story will be much harder to read and comprehend.

    2) I have noticed that the author incoporates more italicized words than exclamation points. The exclamation points and italicized words are suppose to emphasize excitement and energy. The author incoporates multiple exlclamation points on page 191 in the second to
    last paragraph. The author is relieved and surprised that the expected end of the world did not occur. If it was the author’s objective to emphasize excitement and relief, then he did a good job.

  4. 1. I think Eisenberg used the structure of the story as a devise to show many aspects of the story all at once. She examines the complexity of 9/11 and how people (and these characters) were in so many places both physically in New York and mentally like Lucien who had lived in NYC for so long. The way she structured the story showed how this tragedy affected each character differently. I believe Eisenberg used the structure to highlight Rose and Issac and the way history has a way of repeating itself. Rose and Issac were used because they went through WWII. They also thought their lives would never be “normal” again, and that is how several characters feel about 9/11. Eisenberg used the structure of the story very well to tie these two tragedies together and show how each dealt with life returning back to “normal.”

    2. I agree with Klaus that the exclamation points are used used to emphasize energy. But, I also think the author uses italics to emphasize importance of that word or a reoccurring theme. Italics make the reader pay attention to that word or phrase and I found that many of those phrases were used again throughout the story. For example pg. 200, Passivityman was italicized and it was found several times in the story. Also, pg. 201 the question, “What are the world’s three great religions?” is italicized. That question is brought up again in the story.

  5. 1. I think Eisenberg structured the story in a way that allowed the plot to transition from one reality to the next. Each section was almost like a different chapter. From what I observed, it seemed like there were two different stories going on simultaneously. The first, about Nathaniel, who is a college boy seeking to fulfill his destiny, and the second about Lucien and Charlie, a former couple who are uncle/aunt to the boy Nathaniel I feel that Eisenberg chose to construct the story this way to keep the reader on their toes. It certainly kept me wandering what was going to happen next (in both accounts).

    2. I agree with my classmates in that Eisenberg used italicizes and exclamation points to emphasize certain parts of her writing. But I also feel that the author did this in reflection of the characters in the story. Each character presents their own individuality to the story and the author emphasizes each of their distinct personalities through the use of italicization and exclamation points.

    • Great–the sections *are* like chapters, and they allow Eisenberg freedom from the conventions of traditional ideas of flow and transition in the story. And good observation that the italicized bits are different in the sections about the different characters.

  6. I agree with Klaus and Mina about the story structure. And I think Klaus makes good point when he says that the structure is easier to read the way it is written. Because the story has a lot of characters and different events that do seem to end unrepentantly, I think Eisenberg choose a unique and creative approach to writing the story. I also agree that one of the themes being conveyed in the story is that history has a way of repeating itself, as Michele wrote. This story deals with a very sensitive subject matter of the 9-11 attacks, but I feel that Eisenberg is able to convey the effects of the catastrophe through Lucien, as well as through the group of his friends. Very interesting and creative piece of writing that was structured to present multiple storylines through the use of flashbacks.

    • Thanks, Colin. I think you’re correct in that the structure of short sections with clear headings allows Eisenberg to engage in multiple story lines without committing herself to a single character.

  7. Frankie Zelnick

    I agree with Michelle that the structure of the story allows us to see a variety of aspects of the effects of 9/11 and WWII, and tragedy as a whole really, using a myriad of different characters, but I would also take it one step further to say that it’s also a commentary on time itself. I thought the line “if history has anything to teach us…” on page 190, and then repeated on page 201, was a key portion of the story. The idea that “we poor humans cannot actually think ahead; there are just too many variables” (191) is also played out in the flashing back and forth through time between the sections (and sometimes within them), and this theme of the future being a reflection of the past, and also of the past creating the course of the future, is played out throughout each character in each section, and seems to unfold largely because the story is structured for it to be revealed that way. The more we learn about the past, the more the present makes sense. The more the present changes, the more our vision for the possibility of our future changes. The more we came to understand these characters through the flashbacks of their history, the more we came to understand who they were in the present, and why they were who they were in the present, and perhaps too, why we are who we are in the present. Unlike many of my classmates, I found the structure less, not more, easy to read, but I also think that was partially the intention. I thought the structure felt at times confusing and uncertain, and I would have to pause and think about where I was, with which character, what was happening. But I thought it was a smart choice. It paralleled the confusion and uncertainty of many of the characters, of life overall. I thought Eisenberg’s choice to structure it this way, titled with single words and phrases that are so essential to the human experience, conveyed this sort of cyclical idea of how the world works, how we as human beings deal with tragedy, and memory, and our hopes and fears for what is yet to come.

  8. The structure “paralleled the confusion and uncertainty of many of the characters, of life overall”–great, Frankie. Very perceptive observation.

  9. I agree with what almost everyone has said about the structure of Eisenberg’s story. When I read it, it gave me a clue or heading as to what I would be reading about in the next section. It also allowed Eisenberg to tell the story of many characters without having to intertwine or connect all of them. The new sections let her switch the view to a different set of characters without justifying it. However, I agree with Frankie when she said that this structure was actually more confusing to read rather than a normal story without breaks.
    When I read her story, I noticed the use of italicized words and phrases much more than the use of exclamations. I think that the italicized words had more of an impact of me. I think that those words and phrases were all somehow connected with the overall feelings and viewpoints about the new millennium and 9/11. However, I think that both would be used to represent the words, phrases, and meanings that the author really wanted to stress and convey to the reader.

    • Great, Elyse. The emphasized words and phrases are “connected with the overall feelings and viewpoints about the new millennium and 9/11”–absolutely! Specifically, what are the feelings that they convey?

  10. 1) I think he used the structure to be able to explore the main idea or theme behind his story more thoroughly and perhaps from different realities (Lucien seeing the normalcy as more of a propaganda effort than actual normalcy, and Nathaniel trying to recall childhood memories and thinking of could-have-beens). Someone mentioned earlier too how, even though there are technically no chapters, each introduction to a new area of the story through the centered text breaks the story up well.

    However, I was more confused for the first half of the book and even frequently throughout the second half as it was hard to tell who was thinking/talking for whole paragraphs at a time. The way it jumped between characters was rather jarring, and I found it incredibly hard to get attached to the story at all since it jumped between characters so frequently, and without letting you know it even switched character sometimes. Even the time frames switched too frequently and without warning. One minute you’re reading from Lucien’s perspective in his early 20’s or 30’s, then when he first came over to America on the boat, and then he’s suddenly talking about getting Nathaniel an apartment, something already established as having happened earlier in the story. The approach he used could work well, but I do not feel it worked very well for this story.

    2) The italicized words and exclamations worked well to stress urgency or the particular tone the word was spoken in. It also stresses the importance of the meaning behind some of the words, “all this” referring to 9/11 for example.

  11. I felt like ‘Twilight of the Superheroes’ was a novel disguised as a short story. It was long enough that the characters needed depth and the plot, clarity, but short enough that these things could be left (somewhat) out. I was disappointed with it’s length, which seemed too long for what it was about and what it contained. A few people mentioned that the headings helped make the story easier to read. I disagree. I thought that the headings themselves were at times vague and distracting. I feel that Eisenberg depended too much on them to create order in a scattered and interrupted story. But I like her idea of jumping between characters; it gave the story a different perspective. And I agree that it creates a sense of space and time and I think her use of connecting the past with the present with the future was to show us the various character’s struggles with and acceptance of mortality: what is it to live and what is it to die. But I wasn’t compelled to keep reading and the characters didn’t do much for me. I imagine that Eisenberg makes use of italics to try and develop the characters by emphasizing words and/or phrases that are indicative of their personalties; it seemed like a Eisenberg’s solution to the story’s dearth of character descriptions.

    • Thanks, Julia. Agreed that this story is confusing, jarring, and contains *much* more information than the typical short story. It might be interesting to consider why she decided to go with this approach . . .

  12. Bryan Jefferson

    1) I think Eisneberg’s intentions were to give the story a certain depth, a sense of retrospection and understanding that comes about by looking back on an event that had far reaching implications. The constant shifting left the reader unbalanced unsure what was to come. A sense of uncertainty that purveyed the country before Y2K and after 9/11.

    2) As a reader our eyes and thoughts are attracted by any interruption of the monotonous. Meaning by using italics the reader is invited to look deeper into the meanings beneath it. To question what the motivations behind it were. As for the exclamation marks they could be used sarcastically or emphasize, feeling. Example being the time since Lucien had seen is wife Charlie

    • “The constant shifting left the reader unbalanced unsure what was to come. A sense of uncertainty that purveyed the country before Y2K and after 9/11.” Very perceptive reading.

  13. This is the first story that I’ve had difficulty reading this semester. I agree with several classmates as to why Eisenberg decided to break it up into mini chapters…there’s so much that was going on, so much to think about, that to get it all into one short story would have been chaos without having gone the route that she took. Having been there when it happened, I find it hard not to agree with her point of view, her character’s reactions, etc. but I also think that the narrator, Lucien, didn’t quite see everything. There were posters in the subway of missing people that will always be missed and everyone in NYC takes the subway. Even the gallery owners.

    BUT…Now that I’ve cleared my head of the actual day and where and what happened, I can say that it was such a good choice to break each character (and, in the case of Sarah and Isaac, characters) into little pieces. It’s a tragic reconstruction of what really did happen…little pieces of people all over Manhattan. That sounds morbid and I apologize for that but I can’t help but think that. It was building/paper/human debris that settled in Matsumoto’s loft. And hope seemed to die at that very moment for both young (Nathaniel and his friends) and old (Lucien and his).

    The choices made by Eisenberg as to exclamation points and italicized segments underscore the alarm and upset that were invoked by the event. On page 193 there’s a line that caught my eye that, in any case, I think captures the feeling that came with (I can’t even say it) “the event”: “Don’t worry? HAHAHAHAHA! Don’t feel sad? ‘Don’t bother about the phones,’ is what he settles on.” Deborah Eisenberg picked a very good way of describing the aftermath without being maudlin.

  14. *please replace Sarah with Rose in paragraph two – typo. Thanks!

  15. I think that the story was structured in the segmented format it was to allow Eisenberg more freedom in telling the story. Rather than having a typical story with a linear plot He created a web of points, and then connected them together in a way. In the beginning he laid out all the characters and then proceeded to go back into them segment by segment. so rather than have an introduction/conflict/resolution/end type narrative he weaved different ideas together to collectively tell the story.

    the italicized words and exclamations were used to convey extra meaning, or importance. they made certain instances and ideas stand out and more meaningful as needed.

  16. Thanks, Dan–I like the notion of weaving ideas together to tell the story.

  17. I agree with Paul, the story is structured the way it is because it is telling two stories simultaneously. If it didn’t give the reader direction it would be very confusing and the reader would be lost trying to figure out what is happening.
    Here is this college student uncertain about his future and then two events that left the entire country in uncertainty. She describes Y2k as an event that nothing happened. People became extremely frantic over nothing. When no one was worried 9/11 occurred.

    The exclamation points emphasizes her words. It makes the reader capture the emotion she is trying to convey to them. The story displays fear, happiness, uncertainty, and sadness.

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