Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Virgin Suicides; Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Yes, I am reviewing two books at the same time. Why? Because I feel like Jeffrey Eugenides has a distinct voice that, while unique, is also unchanging, unchanged. If I had read The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex one after the other in the same week, I would feel like I had read one long book that changes plots midway through.

Not that the books are bad- quite the opposite; they're amazing. I enjoyed both of them thoroughly, and spent a lot of time thinking about each one. I think that's the greatest gift an author can give: thought-provoking words that force people to contemplate and reflect and, hopefully, come to realizations (they don't have to be huge realizations- even small ones are victories).

I just looked it up and saw that The Virgin Suicides was published in 1993 and Middlesex was published in 2002. That's quite a gap between the two only novels Jeffrey Eugenides has ever written. The amount of time (I was in elementary school in 1993 and working in commercials in 2002!) between the two books makes me feel as though he's one of those authors that writes, revises, re-writes, thinks, re-writes, scraps the whole thing, and re-writes again. I appreciate that kind of thought, because I think a reader can always feel it.

For me, Suicides left a deeper impression. Not because I'm particularly suicidal or anything, but because I really somehow related to the crazy girls, albeit without the suicidal tendencies. Plus, I read Suicides when I was in junior high school, full of angst and agony and hormones.

Middlesex, though about femininity in a way, was less relatable. It seemed ultimately lonely to me, almost despairing.

Oddly enough, despite the suicides in Suicides, I would rather be among people I love (sisters, in this case) than alone and possessing full knowledge of my identity and my place. (Middlesex). I think it's that Asian family/community mentality that makes me feel that way. We do all freakishly stick together.

I know that the subject matter for both books is rather grim, with Suicides being about multiple suicides (did I spoil the story??) and Middlesex being about transsexualism, but they were uplifting, hopeful. I don't know if that's intentional, because I'm not sure that the purpose of either book is to imbue the reader with a sense of possibility ... but that's how I felt after reading them, the same feeling I had when I first read Suicides thirteen years ago (13 years!).

For me, Suicides, Middlesex, and Geek Love will always be associated. They feel somehow related, maybe third cousins. Katherine Dunn and Jeffrey Eugenides were both drinking the same brand of genius water.

I wish I could convey my feelings like Dunn and Eugenides, that I could be so spare and yet so painfully full of emotion.

For now, I'll settle for reading what the pros come up with.


william January 6, 2009 at 11:24 PM  

geek love is genius. i want everyone to read it.

jeanny January 7, 2009 at 10:41 PM  

When you posted about needing suggestions for your students, I almost said "Geek Love."

It's not quite an easy book to teach, though, and I don't know if Korean high school students would quite get it...

I have to read it every few months to re-acquaint myself with Oly and Chick. I love Chick.