Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"Weaves a Sinuous Spell"

I have talked about books a fair amount, mostly in reference to my discovery of the Book Barn and the Twilight series. I have also taken the opportunity to sing the praises of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (if you haven't read it, will you please give it a try?)

However, as I was sitting down to write a blog that was originally going to be about my frustration with Cormac McCarthy (I LOVE the plot and story line of No Country for Old Men, but seriously, Cormac - can't you use quotation marks?) when I realized I have been completely neglecting one of my favorite contemporary authors - OK, probably my flat-out favorite contemporary author - Jeffrey Eugenides.

I admit, my relationship with Eugenides started out a bit dishonestly. I fell in love with The Virgin Suicides, but it was not the book I fell in love with - it was the movie. That's right, I said it. I'm very open about the fact that I was completely enraptured by Josh Hartnett's best performance ever as Trip Fontaine, the school heart throb. Yet more than Josh and his groovy seventies look, I was positively entranced by the whole feel of the film - which, upon reading the book three days later, I realized Sophia Coppola totally got.

See, The Virgin Suicides could be a hard book to get, at least on film. It is heavily atmospheric - the late seventies, suburban Detroit setting is almost a character in itself - plus it is all at once gothicly romantic, darkly comedic, and fantastically tragic. It is no way realistic , yet you don't entirely believe that the events couldn't happen. The collective and somewhat distant male narrative seals the deal for me - this book is something special.

(The movie is none too shabby either - check it out. It is so well done, in fact, that I may never dis Sophia Coppola for her awful performance in Godfather III again. I am also willing to overlook how over-rated Lost in Translation was on the basis of the fact that she did such a great job with this source material.)

Middlesex - Eugenides' Pulitzer-winner - is a totally different book, but similar in certain ways. Once again, it paints a picture of a Detroit from another era. Actually, it paints a picture of Detroit from several different eras, from the immigrant 1920's right up to the race riots of the '70's. The themes, however, are totally different, as is the narrative. Instead of this somewhat distant and removed third-party observer, we have a first-person narration begun before the first person even is a person. The themes of Middlesex are more complicated and less superficial than The Virgin Suicides, but it is just as juicy and satisfying a read.

(Personally, I prefer Suicides just a tiny bit over Middlesex, but that may be based solely on the fact that I read it first and it has a killer movie and soundtrack. Honestly, they are both amazing books.)

Now, you may think that I love these books because they are set in Michigan, where I am from. However, while they reference several points that I am geographically familiar with - the old Hudson's department store, Belle Isle, the Renaissance Center, Detroit Country Day, etc - these books are about a Detroit I never experienced. It is no different than reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and wanting to go to Savannah or Summer Sisters and wanting to go to Martha's Vineyard. I may know where Detroit is, yet I don't know this Detroit - but I wish I did.

Anyway, if you are looking for something to read, I hope you'll give Jeffrey a try. Trust me, he's less intimidating than other Pulitzer winners and ten times more readable. I don't think you'll be disappointed.


Becky said...

I started reading Middlesex last year and, in my terrible ADD way, I put it down for another book that was less cerebral, and now I can't find my copy in my house. Boo! I really liked what I read though, and I made it about halfway through. As soon as I find it, I'm going to finish it.

I didn't love the Virgin Suicides movie all that much when I saw it, but that was years ago and I may not have been paying very close attention. I remember it being one of those movies I thought I would have enjoyed more if I'd read the book first.

Rose said...

I started reading the Twilight series, too! I saw it in Borders all summer while studying for that atrocity and was intrigued. I mean, who doesn't want a boyfriend that dazzles and sparkles?

Becky said...

Ok on a funny note, after reading your post and leaving the previous comment, I got my book list for my Studies in American Lit course. First book on the list was Middlesex. I laughed out loud. Now I'm extra motivated to find my copy and finish ASAP!