Last night, some friends and I went to see Jeffrey Eugenides read from The Virgin Suicides and discuss the novel, sixteen years after its publication. The occasion of the renewed attention is a new reprint of the book in paperback.
I remember when I first read The Virgin Suicides, I had trouble with the narrative distance created by the plural first person narrator, but eventually I came to really appreciate that exact quality. I still have vivid images in my head from the story: the Lisbon girls’ house, the littlest one impaled on the fence, Lux up on the roof. After listening to Mr. Eugenides talk, I am dying to go back and read The Virgin Suicides again (that’s why these events exist, I guess!).
He proved to be warm, self-deprecating, witty and smart–someone I would want equally to be my professor and my drinking buddy. A video of the interview will be up soon on http://www.bn.com/review. If you are a fan of the book, or if you are a writer, you should check it out.
Some highlights included:
When asked how Philip Roth would have treated the story differently (the question made a bit more sense in context), Mr. Eugenides said that he definitely would have gotten into the girls’ house! The interviewer said, “he would have gotten into more than that.” The place went crazy. Ah, literary humor.
Talking about the movie vs. the book, Mr. Eugenides said that because the action couldn’t be filtered through the boys’ speculations as it was in the novel, there was less ambiguity between what was real and what was in their imaginations concerning the Lisbon girls. Because we, the viewers, got to see and judge the girls for ourselves in the film, it had to become more their story than the boys’ story.
Regarding the formation of his idea for Middlesex, he said the easiest answer was that he was drawn to the power of a hermaphroditic narrator, someone imbued with the knowledge of both genders, inspired by the myth of Tiresius settling an argument between Zeus and Hera regarding who has more fun in bed–men or women. Tiresius had been both, so could answer.
In response to a question regarding how the “Pulitzer changed your life,” Mr. Eugenides said he now has a new paperweight, but everything else (confronting the blank screen) is just as hard as it ever was.
Always, that answer–I find it equal parts encouraging and soul-crushing when people like Alice Munro and Jeffrey Eugenides say that their confidence never increases and it never gets easier to fill a page with words.
Of course, nothing makes me more irate than someone intimating that it’s easy!