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Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides is one of my favorite books of all time.

In fact, a passage from it has been my Facebook quotation since…well, Facebook began:

Three times a day Petrovich showed up at the nurse’s office for his injections, always using the hypodermic needle himself like the most craven of junkies, though after shooting up he would play the concert piano in the auditorium with astounding artistry, as though insulin were the elixir of genius.

Those lines! Those encapsulations! Genius. I liked Middlesex too, though it was so different as to be seemingly written by another author. And again, The Marriage Plot is a huge departure from both novels—a love triangle of three college students in the eighties, one of whom is manic-depressive.

This was my first time seeing Jeffrey, and it was certainly a to-do; chairs filled Powerhouse Arena, and Jeffrey majestically descended a staircase to reach the podium. This sole New York appearance was for The Marriage Plot’s paperback release. Jeffrey called this “the only beautiful moment,” meaning he didn’t have to deal with the stress of not-publishing, nor of publishing and having to receive reviews. Jeffrey (who was both eloquent and funny) mentioned one review that called him an “author and pirate facial hair aficionado”—which made him wonder if there are those with “middling” pirate facial hair.

Jeffrey read a portion of the book where the manic-depressive Leonard goes on a walk in the throes of his mania and accosts a girl working in a saltwater taffy shop. Though Jeffrey did a ton of research for Middlesex, about a Greek hermaphrodite, he later said only did 2—3 days on manic depression to find out symptoms and dosages. He got the idea to include a manic-depressive character after meeting a woman at a cocktail party who told him that her drugs kept her in a constant, low state of mania. He managed to write Leonard’s character by heightening his own experiences—for example, he knew the feeling of being nonstop charming for a drunken night, but what if this went on for four days?

Another topic that came up in the Q&A was the importance of books—both for Jeffrey’s characters and for himself. One of the questions of the book that he considered was: How do we fall in love? Biology? The divine? Hugh Grant movies? Literature? For Jeffrey and his character Madeline, books had strongly affected their ideas about life and relationships. Said Jeffrey: “Reading is a dangerous thing—you make decisions based on what you read. There should be warnings on them.”