Jeffrey Eugenides coming to Houston for reading at the Alley
By FRITZ LANHAM
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
Hermaphrodites don't narrate many novels. Which perhaps is odd because, as Jeffrey Eugenides says, every good novelist is a sort of hermaphrodite, trying to get inside the heads of both men and women.
An informal book-club style discussion of Jeffrey Eugenides' novels will be held 3-4 p.m. today at Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet. Christa Forster, a poet, playwright and performer who teaches at St. John's School, will lead the discussion. Admission is free.
In Middlesex, Eugenides took up the challenge of creating a realistic hermaphroditic narrator (actually a pseudohermaphrodite, a genetic male with imperfectly developed genitalia). The result was a large-hearted multigenerational comic epic that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2003 and is one of the most admired novels of recent years.
Eugenides (pronounced yu-GIN-e-dees) will read at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Alley Theatre in the 2004-2005 Inprint Brown Reading Series. It will be his first Texas appearance.
At its core Middlesex is the coming-of-age story of Cal — short for Calliope — Stephanides, a Greek-American kid growing up in suburban Detroit in the 1960s and '70s. But the novel ranges over eight decades, telling the story of Cal's Greek immigrant grandparents (source of Cal's wayward genes) and his parents. Everything from Prohibition-era bootlegging to the Detroit race riot of 1967 to adolescent Cal's clumsy and comic sexual awakening figures into the plot.
Middlesex was preceded by Eugenides' well-received debut novel, The Virgin Suicides. Published in 1993, it tells the story of five teenage sisters who commit suicide, and despite the grim-sounding subject matter the book manages to be both touching and comic. Director Sophia Coppola made The Virgin Suicides into a critically acclaimed movie.
Eugenides was born in Detroit in 1960 and grew up in suburban Grosse Point, Mich. As a schoolboy he studied Latin, reading Ovid (where he came across the hermaphroditic seer Tiresias) and falling under the sway of Virgil. He once said The Aeneid influenced him more than any other book, although he also cites the great Russians — Tolstoy, Nabokov — and American novelists Saul Bellow and Philip Roth as influences. He studied writing at Brown University with John Hawkes and at Stanford University with Gilbert Sorrentino.
From 1999 to 2004, Eugenides, his wife and daughter lived in Berlin, where he was a fellow at the American University. The family now lives in Chicago.
Eugenides' reading will be followed by an onstage interview and a book sale and signing. Admission is $5, free for students and seniors. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. For information call 713-521-2026.