I had no job, no place to live except my North Face VE 24 tent—which was my preferred housing anyhow—and nine-tenths of a Ph.D. All I knew about ownership was that it was good if all your belongings fit into the back of your vehicle, which in my case they did. A lemon yellow Toyota Corolla. Everything, including the dog.
I drove the whole American West that summer, giving readings in small mountain towns and looking for a place to call home. I started in San Francisco and headed north—Point Reyes Station, Tomales, Elk, Mendocino. I crossed into Oregon and looked at property in Ashland, Eugene, and Corvallis. All I knew about real estate was that you were supposed to put 20 percent down, which set my spending ceiling at exactly $105,000. I had no idea that people often lied to real estate agents about their circumstances, and that sometimes the agents lied back. I had $21,000, a book that had been unexpectedly successful, and not three pages of a new one. I understand now that, in a certain way, I was as free as I had ever been and would ever be again. I came absolutely clean with everybody.
But what of the other scientists who contributed to the LIGO project, and whose names grace the three-page-long author list in the paper that describes the discoveries? “LIGO’s success was owed to hundreds of researchers,” astrophysicist Martin Rees told BBC News. “The fact that the Nobel Prize 2017 committee refuses to make group awards is causing increasingly frequent problems and giving a misleading impression of how a lot of science is actually done.”
This refrain is a familiar one. Every year, when Nobel Prizes are awarded in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine, critics note that they are an absurd and anachronistic way of recognizing scientists for their work. Instead of honoring science, they distort its nature, rewrite its history, and overlook many of its important contributors.
How wonderful it would be to be able to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony exactly as it was heard at its premiere! Or would it?
Jeffrey Eugenides' first short story collection reminds us, during the long wait between novels, what we like so much about his writing. These ten stories, written over nearly 30 years, showcase his ability to write convincing female characters, his sensitivity to spouses and artists under duress, and his compassion for people who disappoint themselves as much as each other.
Eugenides has written life-altering books of that sort, and “Fresh Complaint” isn’t one of them. But its charm and insight are real, and formidable.