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Short Stories > "The Girl Who Left Her Sock on the Floor" by Deborah Eisenberg

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message 1: by Barbara (new)

Barbara | 5633 comments Our next short story is "The Girl Who Left Her Sock on the Floor" by Deborah Eisenberg. It's in our anthology The Art of the Story: An International Anthology of Contemporary Short Stories on page 233. If you are a subscriber to The New Yorker magazine, you can also read it at this link:
And, last but not least, it is included in Eisenberg's collection, All Around Atlantis

The best biographical information about Eisenberg was available at It is more than a few paragraphs though so I am going to just provide the link here:

An updated fact is that Eisenberg received a MacArthur Fellowship is 2009.

message 2: by Barbara (new)

Barbara | 5633 comments There is some beautiful language in this story. I especially liked (in the 3rd paragraph),
"Faint, constant crumblings and tricklings...Outside, spring was sneaking up under the cradle of snow in the valley." It sounded like my thoughts about the weather just now in Michigan, but I hadn't been able to find such poetic words.

The theme of this story seems to be how little we know. The title and the first page of the story are all about such trivia as leaving a sock on the floor and general messiness. It quickly moves into a life changing event and opens the door to colossal secrets.

Eisenberg traveled this route with subtlety. I was distracted by my loss of patience with Jessica and suddenly found myself amazed at her empathy in the last paragraph, wondering how I had missed her capacity for it. As I followed the route backward, it made more sense and I was more impressed with Eisenberg's writing.

What did you all think of Jessica? Did you think Eisenberg created a character that evolved believably?

message 3: by Mike (new)

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments I really enjoyed the story. It does a good job of describing a moment when everything seems unreal or disjointed, almost like the Twilight Zone. It also takes up one of my favorite themes in fiction: reality vs. imagination.

The pig dialog in the first section shows us how imaginative Francie is but then a girl crossing a white field in a red coat crashingly introduces a reality into her life like a blimp into a building or a "wrecking ball swung toward a solitary wall (241)." She imagines her sudden appearance in her father's home will have a similar, jolting effect on his reality.

message 4: by Mike (new)

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments Barbara wrote: "What did you all think of Jessica? Did you think Eisenberg created a character that evolved believably?"

I thought she was believable but I don't think there was real evolution. Everything that we are told about her is filtered through the memory of Francie and most of it comes from the day she learns of her mother's death.

She did seem sympathetic, even on the first page when she called Francie a pig. There was something going on with Francie even before she learned about her mother's death. She challenged the dress code (piercings, boots with a dress), she skipped class, and she smoked on school property. Perhaps even stranger is her attitude toward Mr. Klemper who she calls "Sex Machine" and strongly resists the idea of him giving her a ride home. The student/teacher sexual theme recurs when she says she dreamt of Mr. Davis and when the unreliable narrator Iris (the crazy lady on the bus) talks about being raped by her math professor. Given whatever was going on, I think Jessica was doing her best to be supportive of her roomate Francie by cleaning up after her, reprimanding her lightly, confessing she did not want to "trivialize [her:] pain", and then offering to accompany her friend to visit Mrs. Peck.

message 5: by Barbara (new)

Barbara | 5633 comments Oops, Caeliban. I screwed up the names. My question about evolvement actually referred to Francie. At the college, she seemed to be skating on the edge of losing her scholarship, playing with fire. That paragraph in which she described her new future if she had to leave college was chilling. As she dealt with her mother's death and the secret her mother had kept, she seemed to be moving beyond the somewhat trivial rebellions at school.

message 6: by Mike (new)

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments I was struck by the image of her carrying around her mother in a box. I think it literalized maybe some of what she was dealing with at school beforehand. It's as if the scholarship was her chance to escape or supercede the life she would have otherwise had if she stayed at home (the future you mention Barbara). The thing is, she couldn't really leave it behind, her genes, her habits, and her upbringing (in essence, her mother) all came to school with her. She was always on a precipice. When her mother dies it just becomes more evident. She has to physically carry her mother around.

message 7: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9148 comments I may be completely off the wall here, but as Francie's flights of fancy expanded I began to wonder if she was still back at the dorm in bed, watching the red figure coming up the hill and imagining all the events this could herald. IOW, is there anything real in this story beyond that point?

message 8: by Mike (new)

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments Ruth wrote: "I may be completely off the wall here, but as Francie's flights of fancy expanded I began to wonder if she was still back at the dorm in bed, watching the red figure coming up the hill and imagini..."

That's a very different reading. It would make everything that follows a fantasy, e.g. I wish my mother were dead and I wish my fatther hadn't of gotten himself run over by a bus so I could leave this school and go live with him in a cool city like NY. I'm not sure I can buy into that reading but it does surface some interesting potential psychological issues that she could be experiencing in either interpretation.

message 9: by Barbara (last edited Mar 13, 2010 02:00PM) (new)

Barbara | 5633 comments That's an intriguing idea, Ruth. It is a common fantasy, my parent is really out there somewhere just waiting for me to find him/her. And, if this particular parent weren't around, I wouldn't be carrying the burden of all these expectations seems less common, but believable. There is a lot of emphasis on that red figure coming up the hill as well.

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I enjoyed Eisenberg's writing in this story, but the structure of the story seemed incomplete to me. The ending seemed to come at an arbitrary point in the action rather than a natural stopping place. If the story is going to end just before Francie meets her father then why not have it end just as she knocks on his door? Why does she have to come into the living room and wait on the couch? I found that to be a strange scene. And was the man who let her in a roommate/friend of her father's or a partner (i.e. in a gay relationship)? That was a strange suggestion to throw out there right before the end, in my opinion.

(Apologies for posting so late and missing the discussion.)

message 11: by Barbara (new)

Barbara | 5633 comments We're just glad to see you here, Gwen. I didn't pick up on the fact of the person who let her in. And, I like the idea of ending as she knocks on the door, but Eisenberg must've been trying to tell us something else since she continued.

message 12: by Mike (new)

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments I don't have the story in front of me but I remember her feeling comfortable there because it was a comfortably messy apartment. Not ultra clean like her mother's place. It was the kind of place that you wouldn't get crap for leaving a sock on the floor.

I also entertained the idea that the roomate might be her father's partner. And that maybe his homosexuality was the reason her mother told her that he was dead. No real textual evidence for this idea, the story is far too subtle to lay something like that out there.

message 13: by Sherry, Doyenne (new)

Sherry | 7250 comments Caeliban, that's exactly what I thought. It also explains the mother's fury in all things.

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Perhaps the final scene in the living room was to show Francie getting comfortable in her father's home. Maybe she's finding a new place for herself, not just literally but also metaphorically. If she is the daughter of a stable, relaxed person (and not just the daughter of an angry woman prone to lies), perhaps that makes her feel more comfortable in the world.

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Books mentioned in this topic

The Art of the Story: An International Anthology of Contemporary Short Stories (other topics)
All Around Atlantis (other topics)