Twilight of the Superheroes | Study Guide

Deborah Eisenberg

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Twilight of the Superheroes | Revenge of the Dinosaurs | Summary



Lulu flies home to New York City from the West Coast to visit her grandmother, who recently suffered two debilitating strokes. Nana pretty much raised Lulu and her brothers, Bill and Peter, during their mother's illness and after her death. Their father, Nana's son, is a reckless, violent drunk. No one talks to him anymore.

Lulu drops off her luggage at her friend Juliette's apartment, but quickly leaves because Juliette and her boyfriend Wendell are arguing about killing the "crazy, angry maniacs out there who want to kill us." She arrives at Nana's house before Bill and makes small talk with Nana's night nurse, Eileen, who is determined to let Lulu know how kind Bill and his family are for taking such good care of Nana.

Lulu is shocked to see what has become of Nana. She's lost the stunning good looks of her youth, she can't walk, and she doesn't seem to know where she is or who she's with. She watches a news program on an old black-and-white TV. Buildings explode and soldiers march across the screen. They are replaced by protesters in some foreign capital—Lulu isn't sure which. She and her partner, Jeff, don't have a TV back at home because Jeff thinks it will brainwash them. Jeff seems to have a lot of opinions about everything, and he isn't afraid to share them. He once told a stranger in an elevator, "the sun is setting, you guys at the helm," then launched into a diatribe about dinosaurs and fossil fuels. Lulu watches TV with Nana for a few moments. Famous men are on the screen, followed by "helicopters ... nosing at some mountains."

Bill, his wife Peggy, and their daughter Melinda arrive. Peggy is horrified by the images on TV and changes the channel. "That's better," she says as "a few sluttish teenagers [flounce] around" on the screen. Nana suddenly realizes she has company. She recognizes Lulu before lapsing back into silence.

Bill seems restless. He roams the house, picking up and putting down Nana's possessions with one hand while holding a drink in the other. "Poor Nana," he says over and over again. Lulu joins him. Only a few minutes of conversation pass before they're snapping at one another. Bill thinks Lulu should have visited long ago. There are a lot of decisions to be made about Nana regarding her house, her possessions, her care, and her dwindling bank account. Lulu is grateful Bill has been handling everything, but she doesn't see why Nana has to leave her home or sell her things. Lulu is suddenly struck by the thought Nana's life will mean nothing after she dies. Bill harangues Lulu for being out of touch with the real world. They fight about Jeff, who recently lost the funding for his scientific research and has since fallen into a deep depression. Lulu can tell Bill is saying Jeff's name as if it's spelled G-E-O-F-F. "Jeff is Jewish, okay?" Lulu says angrily. "Do you think you can handle it?"

Bill lists the things of Nana's that need to be sold, including the painting Lulu has always loved. Lulu doesn't want any of Nana's things. She gets some ice from the freezer and notices a "Do Not Resuscitate" sign on the refrigerator door. Now both Lulu and Bill are drinking. Bill's face looks like their father's, an expression of "gleeful, knowing malevolence." Melinda starts shrieking at the sound of a helicopter flying overhead, but Peggy tells her not to worry. "They're not dropping bombs on us, we're dropping bombs on them," she says. Melinda keeps carrying on as Lulu glances at the TV. A tall building is "getting sheared off as [they] watched, from an even taller one standing next to it."

Melinda is convinced her parents are mad at her. They say they aren't but they really are—she hung plastic over all the windows in the house in case of a poison gas attack. The tape she used ripped the paint off the walls. The group sits in silence for a few moments, watching soldiers march across the screen. Peggy laments the price of veal chops and Melinda asks if they're poor. Lulu gets up to leave. Her brother and sister-in-law are horrified she's going to take the subway. A man in a lab coat appears on the television screen, holding a new kind of thread that can "register what's going on and protect you." Nana closes her eyes "as if she were finally taking a break."


Deborah Eisenberg is known for writing short stories that seem to be about one thing but are really about another. In many instances the "other" story line has to do with human response to global politics and events. That's the case for "Revenge of the Dinosaurs." On the surface the story appears to be about feuding siblings dealing with their grandmother's illness and rapid decline. But it's also a commentary about how self-absorption blinds one to the goings-on of the larger world. Lulu is aware of what is happening on the TV screen—protesters marching, buildings falling, world leaders giving speeches—but instead of thinking about what those images mean for the world, she only thinks about how they affect her. A good example is when she sees the helicopter flying toward the mountains on the tiny screen. Instead of trying to figure out where the helicopter is going and why, she thinks about how difficult air travel is. "Flying is no joke at all these days!" she thinks. The only signal she knows anything about what's going on in the world is her fear her designated airplane will turn into "great chunks of charred metal falling from the sky." Even that sobering thought doesn't get much reflection beyond an "Oh well."

"Revenge of the Dinosaurs" (and later, "The Flaw in the Design) is a departure from Eisenberg's usual third-person omniscient narrator. Her first collection of stories, Transactions in a Foreign Currency, utilized first-person narration throughout, a decision Eisenberg later said made her "uneasy." There's always the fear the reader will take the first-person narrator's voice and ideas as the author's. First-person narration was easier for Eisenberg when she was first starting out, but as she became more comfortable crafting stories she switched perspectives. That begs the question as to why Eisenberg reverted back to first person for the last two stories in this book. Only Eisenberg knows for sure. But "Revenge of the Dinosaurs" has a markedly different mood and voice of the other five stories in the collection. Lulu's constantly chattering inner monologue and refusal to process the horrific images on the TV lend her a forced cheerfulness that is a bright contrast to the pall of despair in the other stories. The first-person narration also helps the reader sympathize with Lulu. An outsider's perspective, even an omniscient one where the narrator knows everything about the character, could make her seem careless and vapid. First-person narration makes her seem more sympathetic, or likable.

It's never explicitly said when "Revenge of the Dinosaurs" takes place, but there are several indications it occurs during the early days of the United States's War on Terror, which began soon after the events of September 11, 2001. The protesters Lulu sees on TV are perhaps anti-war protesters, and the buildings she sees exploding might be in Afghanistan or Iraq. The building "getting sheared off" from its neighbor is probably the first World Trade Center tower that fell. The adults are desensitized to all of this—only Peggy is mildly alarmed by the images on the screen. They have all moved past the events of that day to become wholly focused on their own lives. That's not the case for Melinda. She is still terrified by what happened on September 11. That's why she freaks out about the overhead helicopter and why she tried to put plastic over all the windows in the house. She sees what's going on in the rest of the world, but the adults are too wrapped up in their own minor dramas—the cost of veal, selling Nana's jewelry—to notice.

The adults are also too self-involved to focus on Nana. She's the reason why they're all there, but she takes the proverbial back seat while Bill and Lulu snap at each other. Though it looks like they're fighting about what is best for Nana, they're clearly resuming an argument that has been going on for years. Bill thinks Lulu is out of touch with the real world, while Lulu thinks Bill is "exploitive and venal," or motivated by money. He works in the insurance industry; she works at a vintage clothing store. Bill is much more practical than his sister, who lives in the woods with a man whose forceful (and judgmental) opinions have become her own. The fundamental differences in how Bill and Lulu approach life prevent them from being able to work together. Lulu leaves Nana's apartment before any decisions can be made, leaving Bill to handle everything by himself again.

Lulu and Bill's family life was never a happy one—an ill mother and alcoholic father saw to that. Nana was the only thing holding them together. Lulu tries to keep her temper at first, but she can't help poking Bill, who keeps pointing out how far away she lives. As the two of them get deeper into their grandmother's alcohol stash, they regress to their old ways of communicating—snide remarks and subtle insults. They also display the qualities Nana found so abhorrent in their father. Bill becomes more and more belligerent the more and more he drinks while Lulu does her best to avoid reality altogether. Focusing entirely on small-scale problems, like Jeff's loss of funding and the annoyances of air travel, prevent her from engaging with bigger, broader issues. Her passivity and willful ignorance of Nana's situation mirrors her disinterest in global events. If she doesn't know about it, she can't be responsible for fixing it.

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