I have read both of Eugenides other books: The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. In fact, I liked the latter so much, I even own after having it seen it discounted at Chapters. I don’t really buy new books often. I have enjoyed his work. It’s really in the characters, prose and to a certain extent, how good Eugenides is about writing about gender and relationships. With TVS, the characters seem both real and mythical. That worked was definitely filled with nostalgia and a surreality. But it was in Middlesex in which I found him to be a very good writer. The characters in it were believable, good and real. In the Marriage Plot and in Middlesex especially, he deals with sex, gender, feminism, and these ideas in Western society. I don’t mean to say he is very political about it, but he shows an understanding of these topics or the awareness of it between cultures. There’s a moment in Paris where one of the main characters sees a woman (p.157):
When Mitchell looked at her; the girl did an amazing thing: she looked back. She met his gaze with frank meaning. Not that she wanted to have sex with him, necessarily. Only that she was happy to acknowledge, on this late-summer evening, that he was a man and she was a woman, and if he found her attractive, that was all right with her. No American girl had ever looked at Mitchell like that.
The book is one largely about relationships, desire, unrequited love and being in love, both good and bad: “What was interesting about being the needy one was how much in love you felt” (p 25) Which isn’t all about how love is, but it does describe the early rush of it and that neediness you feel to be with the other person.
Furthermore, Eugenides has touched on mental illness lightly before, but he tackles it much more in this book as one of the characters seems clinically depressed and the consequences on the other characters, both direct and indirect.
There isn’t a lot of plot in Eugenides books, but it’s not as slow moving as some other novels. I think like many good stories, there is actual growth or movement for all the characters, but like life, it’s not perfect. The ending was sort of meta and fitting. Maybe a bit abrupt, but somewhat realistic and showed a lot of growth in all the characters.
Read on January 3rd, 2012.