Transactions in a Foreign Currency Critical Essays

Deborah Eisenberg

Transactions in a Foreign Currency

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

TRANSACTIONS IN A FOREIGN CURRENCY is the first collection of fiction from Deborah Eisenberg, a wonderful new writer so far mainly known as the author of the play PASTORALE.

The book consists of seven stories, all first-person narratives of young women trying to survive in the 1980’s.

“Days,” one of the most affecting stories in the book, is quintessential Eisenberg. It is the exercise journal of a woman who, having put on twenty pounds as a result of giving up smoking, lets a friend talk her into joining the YMCA.

The diary describes the narrator’s repeated forays into this frightening terra incognita, each visit representing a major triumph over her overwhelming desire to hide out in her apartment with the curtains drawn.

Mastery of the most trivial routines--using the locker, buying tube socks, or running three consecutive laps around the track--is an event to celebrate, but instead of offering encouragement, the regulars go out of their way to dish out devastating put-downs and back-handed compliments. The outsider’s desperate need to belong is matched by the insider’s equally desperate need to keep others out.

The other stories offer variations on this basic theme: teenage girls imitating the rituals of womanhood, mistresses trying to participate in the life-styles of their uncommunicative lovers sophisticates determined to stay on the cutting edge of fashion.

The title suggests the strong thematic unity of the book: All of Eisenberg’s characters are aliens who struggle, mostly unsuccessfully, with rules they do not understand.

They are like the helpless tourist who ends up holding out a handful of strange coins to the grinning taxicab driver. While her clean and lucid prose style resembles that of other masters of the modern idiom--Tobias Wolff or Ann Beattie, for example--Eisenberg’s unusually coherent point of view makes this collection a real literary find, and one deserving of the widest possible audience.