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“Twilight of the Superheroes”

Deborah Eisenberg

Plot Overview

Context

Character List

Nathaniel, a twenty-eight year-old aspiring architect, reclines with his three roommates on the terrace of their thirty-first-floor sublet. He imagines himself as a grown man recounting the experience of y2k to his grandchildren. Realizing how unimportant the event was, he laughs at his own imagined future. The idea of anyone his age actually having kids at all, let alone grandkids, seems ridiculous to him.

Nathaniel’s middle-aged uncle, Lucien, meanwhile, is in his office with his assistant, Sharmila, at his art gallery on the other side of the city, and is just about to close up for the evening. Lucien recalls a conversation he had earlier in the day with his client Yoshi Matsumoto, who informed Lucien that he will soon return to New York, which he claims is now “back to normal.” This phrase disturbs Lucien, who recalls why Matsumoto left in the first place and how Nathaniel came to live in Matsumoto’s apartment. Thinking about his nephew and family in general also prompts Lucien to think about his late wife, Charlie, who died of cancer.

Meanwhile, Nathaniel sips champagne on the balcony of Matsumoto’s apartment along with his three roommates—Madison, Lyle, and Amity—and Amity’s agent, Russell, to toast the end of their three-year stay in the apartment. They have lived in the apartment since Lucien helped Nathaniel settle in the city in 2000. Nathaniel and his roommates recall witnessing the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, while eating breakfast on the terrace. The event was traumatic for all of them, and it took a long time before any of them could relax on the terrace again. Their toast marks a significant time in their lives, and Nathaniel realizes that they may all go in separate directions once Matsumoto returns.

Lucien plans to spend the evening as he usually does, alone with a glass of wine. The thought of doing so, however, makes him feel very old, and he suddenly has the desire to give Sharmila some advice about life and share some of his wisdom with her. But, realizing that she wouldn’t be interested, he sends her home instead. Lucien then begins daydreaming of Charlie, which reminds him of Nathaniel and Nathaniel’s parents, Isaac and Rose, who’d been Charlie’s sister. They had asked Lucien and Charlie to look after their son when he’d first moved to the city, which had irritated him, not because he disliked Nathaniel but because he felt that Rose and Isaac doted on the boy too much.

Since Charlie’s death, Rose and Isaac had ironically become more involved in Lucien’s life, which irritated him even more. He realizes that Rose and Isaac immigrated to America from Eastern Europe, where they’d faced terrible persecution. At the same time, Lucien is grateful for Rose and Isaac because they remind him of his deceased wife. He misses Charlie very much and spends a great deal of time reminiscing about his life with her.

Nathaniel, meanwhile, recalls the time when Aunt Charlie and Uncle Lucien visited his family in the Midwest. The visit, however, was not exactly pleasant. A rivalry existed between Charlie and Rose, and Nathaniel believes that the bitterness even lasted up until Charlie’s death. He finds it ironic that New York City, the place that offered his parents safe haven when they first immigrated to the country, is now his home.

Meanwhile, Lucien remembers his elementary school teacher, Miss Mueller. She was his history teacher, and he reminisces about how much of what she taught him is now considered incorrect.

Nathaniel recounts the story of his comic book creation, Passivityman. Although his Passivityman comic is popular in the Midwest, he begins to realize that the comic doesn’t hold his interest as much as it once did. He isn’t sure if that’s because he’s busier these days or has less drive. He looks around at his friends, those he used as models for his comic book characters, and wonders if superpowers fade naturally as one gets older.

Lucien begins to recount the events of the morning of September 11, 2001, in his mind. He was far from the World Trade Center site that morning but headed straight to Ground Zero when he heard the news in an effort to find Nathaniel.

As Nathaniel reconstructs the day in his mind, he simultaneously recalls a fleeting affair with the girl he stayed with for a time after 9/11. The relationship didn’t fulfill him in any way.

Lucien recounts the aftermath of 9/11 and the impact it had on the city. He than realizes that while most things seem to have gone back to normal, the normality is only a façade. Lucien thinks his perspective on things has changed irrevocably because of the event.

Nathaniel, on the other hand, continues drinking with his housemates, looking into the future. He realizes that his relationship with his parents has grown gentler and more mature over the years. He and his friends toast their time in Matsumoto’s apartment, and Nathaniel thinks about a dream he had involving his love interest, Delphine.

Across town, Lucien toasts to the open air and thinks, abstractly, pessimistically, about the future.

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