The Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Spring  2002

Making Scenes by Adrienne Eisen


Making Scenes
Adrienne Eisen
New York: Alt-X Press
200 pages,  $15

Purchase information available at



The first person protagonist in Adrienne Eisen’s novel Making Scenes stands as a perfect poster model for the young twenty-first century woman—that is to say an absolute basket case made so by the painful contradictions rife in her socio-cultural/temporal sphere. Being post-postmodern, she seeks to reach a state of perfection through a rigorous system of bulimia, obsessive exercise, self-conscious forays into bisexuality and adultery, and excessive reading. After all, what could be hipper and more desirable in this era than a slender, vomiting, literate Jewish professional beach volleyball player dealing with incest issues? Making Scenes reads like a dissertation on the absorbing mess that is young modern woman.

But in a classic post-feminist turn, Ms. Eisen chooses not to play the cards so often used by many of her rank and file sisters. She refuses to reduce her moral and social dilemmas to a politically-correct ovarian vs. testicular, black and white duality, instead opting for a more substantial gray reality. This is not to say she doesn’t blame others by turns for her disease or cast others in a negative light¾she does¾but it is a light that illuminates her faults as starkly. The sharp, controlled reality of the narrative reveals the inevitable truth that individuals are almost always the cause and engine of their failures.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the book is Eisen’s wry humor. If Woody Allen were a bulimic post-feminist beach volleyball player, Making Scenes is the kind of book he would be writing. But where Allen often twists the existential into a broad absurdist reality, Eisen delves into a more personal tragi-comic netherworld. Her humor ventures leagues beyond self-deprecation into a realm of self-excoriation. Her brand of inward brutality only works because of the light hand and wisdom applied to the work as a whole. Her understanding of the farcical qualities of obsession and modern personhood flows like a sure-running current throughout, and it is a current that pulls the reader along with regularity and purpose. 

The construction and the pace of revelation stand as the only slight negatives in an otherwise successful work. Some accounts of relationships and jobs, as well as the vague recounting of an incestuous relationship with her father are often introduced by fits and starts¾a device that sometimes leads to character confusion and the feeling that one missed something earlier in the narrative. Some elements build gradually while others seem to drop from the clouds. In addition to these slight missteps, the conclusion carries little sense of rounding the story, but since first person often represents the ongoing pattern of life, the reader will find it easy to forgive Ms. Eisen for not reducing a life to a perfect summation. This starkly funny, sexual (though not particularly sexy), and compelling narrative will make a great summer read for readers of either sex interested in modern mania.

– CAW –