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Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg
I’ve always liked Jesse Eisenberg, which is odd, because I can’t think of a movie I’ve seen him in that I actually enjoyed (except ‘The Village,’ which doesn’t count because he was in it for, what, two scenes?) But I’ve always liked him, his acting, despite the films, and I’ve also always enjoyed watching him do interviews or whatever. He comes across as so personable and maybe a little jittery, but fun and interesting, and I just like the way he tells a story.
So I was pretty curious when I saw that he’d written this book. The thing is, you can never really tell whether a celebrity’s book is actually good or not just by the praise it gets‐ critics will always say ‘It’s freaking fantastic!’ even when it completely sucks, because no one wants to piss off a celebrity. And celebs do seem to get a lot of leeway in what they write about and how they write it, as opposed to regular people who have to play within a more defined set of rules. So, yeah, super curious‐ that was me.
And the verdict is, it’s true‐ Jesse Eisenberg can actually write. Well. Really, really well. Confession time‐ I’m not a fan of short stories. You have to be excellent to get me to even notice a short story, and then you still have to hold my attention in an incredible way to stop me from skimming through the book. There is, in fact, only one author I can think of who can do this for me on a regular basis. Shorts just don’t… grab me. Generally. So I tried to go into this with an open mind.
But this was actually good, all the way through. It grabbed me from the very beginning and didn’t let go, even after the first story, all the way through until the end. I was always entertained, never bored, and I never felt the urge to skip any of the shorts or stories at all.
I liked some pieces better than others. I think that’s to be expected in any collection. ‘Bream Gives Me Hiccups,’ the title track, so to speak, was my favorite, and I also inexplicably loved ‘Nick Garrett’s Review of Rachel Lowenstein’s New Book, Getting Away.’ Those two just really tunneled into my heart, in odd ways. I was less enamored with things like ‘My Roommate Stole My Ramen: Letters from a Frustrated Freshman,’ which was bizarre and just uncomfortable… but also weirdly fascinating and something, like the rest of the book, that I couldn’t stop reading.
Jesse Eisenberg seems to have a pretty casual writing style‐ very loose, easy to slip into, comfortable, exciting. He wrote men and women equally well, and his voices were all so very believable‐ the narrator of the first story is a nine year old boy, and it was so well‐written and honest and real, I actually thought maybe it was autobiographical (I’m pretty sure it’s not, though.) Jesse obviously isn’t afraid to tick anyone off or insult anyone‐ he lets his characters say exactly what’s on their minds, regardless of how incorrect or downright terrible it is, and he uses that style to get right into the heart of things, bluntly, but honestly. Sometimes the ideas he’s conveying skirt along the line between well‐defined and heavy handed, so they’re almost, almost too much in your face, but they never quite cross it. Instead, you’re left with some excellent characters showing you just how they feel, conveying thoughts in a beautiful, articulate, but utterly unsubtle way. And it’s so blunt and right there, and most of the time, it works. Really well.
I read a lot of books. And getting that kind of balance out of characters, saying what you want to say and never letting it feel forced, is one of the biggest challenges writers, even the best writers, face. You just don’t see it happen very often. But Jesse Eisenberg gets there. He’s sincerely talented.
Now. Does he do some weird things that other writers would just never get away with? Yeah, he does. Like, there’s a whole section that’s called ‘Manageable Tongue Twisters,’ where he lists sentences like “Sally peddles fish exoskeletons down by the beach” and “Jimmy bifurcated corn, although I don’t really give a shit,” which is pretty funny, but… what do I do with that? He’s lucky‐ he gets to play around with ideas and thoughts and structure and most other writers don’t. It’s just, sometimes this playing around works really well for him, and sometimes it doesn’t. Never boring, like I said, just not always… I don’t know. Sometimes I was bowled over by the sentiment conveyed in a piece, and a lot of the time I laughed out loud, but sometimes, I was left wondering what, exactly, it was that I’d just read.
I read this book all at once. I think it probably would have been better served if it was read one short or story at a time, though. Most of the pieces are only going to take you a handful of minutes to read anyway. And there are definitely some pieces I’d like to come back to that way. And some I probably won’t ever read again.
All of it is worth reading, though. I was really pleasantly surprised by Jesse Eisenberg and ‘Bream Gives Me Hiccups.’ He’s a mature, talented writer and I’d be eager to read anything he comes up with in the future.
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