Point of View
“Someone to Talk To” is written in the third person limited omniscient; however, because the reader has access to only Aaron Shapiro’s thoughts and emotions, and no one else’s, the effect is similar to that of a first-person narrative. This is important, because otherwise readers would not experience the psychological upheaval that Aaron is going through, thrown from an emotionally jarring situation—his breakup with Caroline—straight into the physical and mental disorientation of traveling to a foreign country. For example, Aaron’s performance at the concert is satisfactory—the composer himself commends Aaron afterwards—but to Aaron it is all a confusing blur: “Shapiro felt as though he’d awakened to find himself squatting naked in a glade, blinking up at a chortling TV crew that had just filmed him gnawing a huge bone. Had he played well or badly? He hardly knew.” Similarly, when he is sitting in the small restaurant after walking through the poor neighborhoods of the Indians, he falls into a reverie and sees Caroline in his mind’s eye. He says, “Caroline,” but afterward, he is unsure whether he has actually spoken the name aloud or just thought it. Because only Aaron’s thoughts are expressed, the reader experiences the same uncertainty.
The Latin American country to which Aaron travels figures prominently in the story. In particular, seeing the abject poverty of the native Indians forces Aaron to confront his own terror about his failing career and precarious finances and to realize the fine line between “ordinary” people like him and the homeless people camped out near his own home in the city. Moreover, he realizes that in the minds of the wealthy snobs who have hired him, that line is even finer, in terms of class distinction.
The beauty of the countryside provides a stark contrast to what is happening to its native people. Though Eisenberg uses few words to describe the landscape, more than one character refers to its beauty. When Shapiro takes his long walk through the city, he notes that “beyond the surrounding slopes lay the countryside—the gorgeous, blooddrenched countryside.” Later, the hostess of Shapiro’s reception is described as having a “blood-red mouth,” linking her and the other wealthy concert goers to the war and strife brought about by the oppressive government.
Travel is a common theme in Eisenberg’s work, often throwing her characters off-balance. In a 1992 interview in the New York Times Book Re, Eisenberg describes this disorientation: “The thing that guides you in the ordinary round of your day is not there—the stability that carries you from one moment to the next is gone.” This disruption underscores the unsettled and vulnerable feelings of people who are financially at risk or who have been financially stable and now experience abject poverty because of an oppressive governmental takeover.
Though “Someone to Talk To” is by no means a comedy, Eisenberg uses humor throughout to leaven its weighty themes. Sometimes the humor is more subtle, as in her wry description of Shapiro’s piano students: “startlingly untalented children who at best thought of the piano as a defective substitute for something electronic.” In her description of the relentlessly chipper Caroline, she writes, “He’d once overheard her saying thank you to a recorded message.” Later, Eisenberg describes Shapiro’s performance of the concerto, once hailed as “affirming,” as “a great, indestructible, affirming block of suet.” Not all of the humor is couched in descriptive passages, however. The interview with Beale contains moments broad enough for vaudeville, such as when Beale takes offense at Shapiro’s question regarding how dangerous the country is: The humor with which Eisenberg describes Beale and his behavior, and his rambling, loony way of talking, allows her to give Beale the task of voicing some serious themes—persecution of the Indians, for example—without dragging the story down.
Critics have commented on the dreamlike quality of Eisenberg’s stories. In “Someone to Talk To,” Aaron Shapiro literally dreams his way through much of the story, due to his preoccupation with Caroline and their breakup. He frequently falls into reveries about their days together. Eisenberg uses language that accentuates his dreamlike state: “The night had been crowded with Caroline and endless versions of her departure—dreamed, reversed in dreams, modified, amended, transfigured, made tender and transcendently beautiful as though it had been an act of sacral purification.” Later, when he escapes to a phone booth for a few moments away from the journalist Beale, Eisenberg writes, “Shapiro sat down inside it, shutting himself into an oceanic silence. Beyond the glass wall people floated by—huge, serene, assured, like exhibits.” This distorted, surreal feeling is common in Eisenberg’s work. In a review of Under the 82nd Airborne in the New York Times Book Review reviewer Gary Krist writes that “the overall atmosphere of beleaguered disorientation” is an “Eisenberg trademark.”
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, Deborah Eisenberg, Published by Gale Group, 2006