Featured Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
This month’s featured author is one of my (Jen) favorites: Jeffrey Eugenides. Next month we will feature one of Book Worm’s favorite authors.
Jeffrey was born in Detroit Michigan to a father of Greek descent and a mother of Irish descent. Eugenides stated that he wanted to be a writer as a junior in high school after reading The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. He started writing and submitting short stories to literary magazines while still in high school. He later went on to Brown University (where he graduated magna cum laude) to study with John Hawkes. He has a master’s degree in English and Creative writing from Stanford University.
He has published numerous short stories and essays and has published three novels. His essays and shorts have been published in The Paris Review, The Yale Review, and the New Yorker among others. His first novel, The Virgin Suicides (review coming soon) has been translated into fifteen languages and was made into a major movie directed by Sophia Coppola. Middlesex, his second novel, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2003. The Marriage Plot won an Indies Choice Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. All three novels are on the 1001 List of Books to Read Before you Die.
In an interview with the Paris Review, Jeffrey stated that he doesn’t publish books that often because he spends so much time working on his sentences and rewriting material. He also claimed that his career has been an attempt to reconcile tow poles of literature: Modernism and realism. These quotes certainly captured my experience of his books. For example, The Virgin Suicides has a very lyrical and dreamlike quality to it and Eugenides uses first-person plural (an uncommon narrative form). Yet, at the same time, the novel feels emotionally very real and it captures the essence of a specific time and place.
Jeffrey currently teaches creative writing at Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts. What I wouldn’t give to enroll in one of his classes!
I’ve read all three of Eugenides books and I have liked them all. I find him to be a smart contemporary writer who consistently tackles tough subjects in his work. One thing I love about his writing is that no matter what subject, his books create a real sense of time and space and reading them transports you back to those times. I’ve ranked his books in order from favorite to least favorite (clicking on the hyperlinks will take you to the Amazon synopsis):
The Marriage Plot: 5 stars. I really loved this book and you can read why in my full review here.
Middlesex: 4.5 stars. Wonderfully insightful and beautifully written book. I initially hesitated to read this book because Oprah selected it as a book club option (which often kills my desire to read the book after finding many of her recommendations not very good). I picked it up because my book club selected it and was happy to be proven wrong. We all loved it. The novel spans nearly a century and traces the Stephanides family across continents and eventually to the U.S. If you are one of the 2 people left on earth who hasn’t read this book, you should remedy that asap.
The Virgin Suicides: 3.5 stars. I can’t really say that I enjoyed this particular book (since suicide and loneliness are central themes), but I can say that it captured mood and atmosphere perfectly. It is extremely sad and dark and focuses on the loss of innocence.
Book Worm’s Thoughts:
Unlike Jen I don’t love Eugenides. I have read two of his novels and they were both just ok and nothing special.
The Virgin Suicides: I just didn’t get the point of the story. The best bit was seeing things through the eyes of the boys who spied on the sisters. This added a touch of humor but the girls themselves I didn’t like, or connect with.
The Marriage Plot – This was a 3 star read for me. I did enjoy the use of literary references and technique but it just lacked the magic that a great romance has.
We want to hear from you. What do you think of Jeffrey Eugenides? Do you like his works? Why or why not? Which are your favorites. Who do you agree with? Do you love his novels are or they just okay?
For more about Jeffrey Eugenides, check out this video clip from the New York Times where Eugenides discusses his first two novels.
I haven’t read any of his books and I only own The Marriage Plot. But I am 100% certain that I will wind up reading all of his books as the plot of all three of his novels have always intrigued me. What impressed me further is how the plot and tone of each book seems so different. Some writers can fall into the trap of writing the same things over and over. It doesn’t seem to be the case with Eugenides.
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His books are certainly very different in terms of content and themes. Marriage Plot was my personal favorite so I think it’s a good place to start. You’ll have to stop back and let us know what you thought of it when you eventually get around to reading it.
I’ve only read Middlesex, which I thought was brilliant. Virgin Suicides is on my to read list. The friend who recommended Middlesex to me told me not to bother with The Marriage Plot. I’ll read Jen’s review for another perspective!
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I did my postdoctoral fellowship and teach at Brown (where much of the novel takes place) so I might be biased but I thought it was excellent. I definitely think it was much better than Virgin Suicides.
The synopsis you posted with your reviews sounds right up my street. I enjoyed the knowledge in Middlesex as much as the story, I felt like I learned some stuff as I read. He seems a sharp observer of human nature, too.
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