‘Baster’ by Jeffrey Eugenides

Baster by Jeffrey Eugenides, 1996

The magic trick:

Disguising the first-person narration as third-person early in the story

E if for Eugenides.

There’s something very 90s, very 90s New York, about this story. I’m actually not even sure it’s set in New York. But it just feels like it. There’s an aura of privilege. This is a story about unhappy people, but there’s an aura of privilege surrounding their unhappiness and their loneliness that makes it harder to sympathize, I think, for a modern audience, or an audience that is in any way sensitive to that kind of privilege. These are people who are living the urbane dream, with their little parties and their private concerns.

So, we have a woman who wants to have a baby, but she hasn’t been able to have the kind of adult relationship or emotional success in her life that has put her in position to have that baby the way that maybe she had imagined it. So now she’s coming up on 40 years old, and she’s trying to force the issue a little bit.

Anyway, the story does a really cool thing. The first quarter at least, maybe first third, appears to be a third person narration. We’re getting what we assume is non-judgmental, completely truthful representation of this woman’s life. It’s presented to us as facts. But then there’s this little twist about a quarter of the way through where it becomes clear that this is actually first-person narration. This is her ex-boyfriend telling us about her and about the situation.

And the story kind of just goes on. It doesn’t make a big deal about this reveal. It just sort of goes on, and the story starts to become, at least in part, about him and his sense of loss and his hurt. So all of a sudden, everything is framed a little bit differently. What we thought was 100-percent reliable fact turns out to be skewed potentially by this guy’s point of view. It’s not even to say that he’s intentionally trying to skew the facts or smear this woman’s reputation or anything of the kind. But he’s got his own very strong point of view about the situation and what should’ve happened and what could’ve happened. And then what does happen bears that out. It casts the entire story in a different light when we realize that it’s not the third-person narration that we originally thought it was. And that’s quite a trick on Eugenides’s part.

The selection:

“So,” I said. “Big news.”

“I’m going to do it, Wally. I’m going to have a baby.”

We sat down. Tomasina took a drag on her cigarette, then funnelled her lips to the side, expelling smoke.

“I just figured, Fuck it,” she said. “I’m forty. I’m an adult. I can do this.” I wasn’t used to her new teeth. Every time she opened her mouth it was like a flashbulb going off. They looked good, though, her new teeth. “I don’t care what people think. People either get it or they don’t. I’m not going to raise it all by myself: My sister’s going to help. And Diane. You can babysit, too, Wally, if you want.”


“You can be an uncle.” She reached across the table and squeezed my hand. I squeezed back.


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