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“Twilight of the Superheroes”

Deborah Eisenberg

Context

Table of Contents

Plot Overview

Deborah Eisenberg was born in 1945 to a homemaker mother and a pediatrician father. She was raised outside of Chicago in the suburb of Winnetka, a place she has referred to as “hermetically sealed” and middle-class. Her parents, who are of Jewish decent, raised her as a Jew even though Winnetka was, by her own description, “anti-Semitic and restricted.” A brown-haired girl, Eisenberg felt like an outcast amongst the mostly blonde children in her primarily protestant town. In addition, throughout her childhood she suffered from a serious case of scoliosis—a condition in which the spine is bent irregularly—and was therefore required to wear a full body metal and leather brace that went from her ears almost down to her knees. Sent to boarding school to complete her early education, Eisenberg’s childhood and teenage years were characterized by social and emotional distress. Always difficult, she developed a rebellious attitude, acting out and causing problems in numerous ways.

After boarding school, Eisenberg’s parents wanted her to attend Marlboro College in Vermont, but she ran off with her boyfriend to New York City instead. In New York, Eisenberg acquired her undergraduate degree at the New School in downtown Manhattan. While working as a waitress, she met the man with whom she would spend most of her life, actor and playwright Wallace Shawn. She herself has described Shawn as the strangest person she’d ever met. Shawn’s father, an editor at the New Yorker, encouraged Eisenberg to try her hand at writing, and he eventually published her first short story, "Flotsam," in the mid-1980s. Eisenberg, along with Alice Munro and Francine Prose, quickly became known as one of a select group of her generation’s most important female short fiction writers.

Eisenberg’s first book-length collection of short fiction, Transactions in a Foreign Currency, was published in 1986, followed by Under the 82nd Airborne (1992), The Stories (So Far) of Deborah Eisenberg (1997), and All Around Atlantis (1997). Unlike most contemporary fiction writers, Eisenberg has continued to focus exclusively on the short fiction form and hasn’t published any novels to date. Nevertheless, critics consider her to be one of her generation’s major literary masters.

“Twilight of the Superheroes” is the title story in Eisenberg’s most recent collection, which deals with the psychological aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Many believe that she infused the stories with some of her own experiences after the attacks, although Eisenberg has never confirmed this. The critical reception of the work, however, has been generally positive, and she has received much praise for her ability to capture the emotional experience of the attacks without lapsing into cliché. Eisenberg currently lives in both New York City and Virginia, where she teaches writing at the University of Virginia.

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