After sixteen years’ thankless scribbling,
: American author Jeffrey Eugenides has caused quite a stir with his first novel, an everyday story ; of sex and death. He
- spoke to Cathy Boylan. A surreal story of live young sisters. observed lustfully by neighbourhood boys. living out shor1. repressed lives in America‘s suburbia until they self— destruct. Jeffrey Eugenides' first
published novel The Virgin Suicides has
attracted a lot of attention. He arrived in Glasgow following publicity stopovers in London. Amsterdam and Berlin; after a spot on Radio Scotland's The Usual Suspects he was off to Spain before heading home to his Brooklyn apartment. where four part-written. currently abandoned novels await him. Eugenides‘ reaction to his success is that it makes sense — now 32. he has been writing since he was sixteen. He accepted technical help at creative writing school. btit rejected exhortations to write realist fiction. The Virgin Suicides was snapped tip by the first publisher he approached. much to
Jeffrey Eugenides: ‘The first ten years
were the hardest'. his delight. ‘l didn't want to go on writing till I was ()0 without getting anything acceptcd.‘ he laughs. adding. ‘the first ten years were the hardest.‘ He’s now given up the day-job — or. rather. it gave him tip. realising his mind was elsewhere.
Why suicidc'.’ ‘Bccause it‘s dramatic.‘ litigenides answers. Not that the novel was spawned by some macabre obsession with self-slaughter ~- his nephew‘s young babysitter happened to
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mention that she and her sisters had all attempted it; when quizzed why. she referred vaguely to ‘pressures'. From this grew the story of Lux Lisbon and her sisters. struggling to grow tip in a suffocating family environment — Eugenides. who drew on his own adolescence in Grosse Point. Michigan while writing the book. is adamant that American suburbs can be ten times more stilling than their British counterparts.
‘I didn’t have sisters. I’d go to triends’ houses where there were girls living and there was always a sense of their being distant, mysterious.’
Neither was The Virgin Suicides conceived as a masterly work on the female psyche. notwithstanding the letters he has received from teenage girls telling him how well he understands . . . ‘The book is more concerned with the effect of suicide on the survivors.‘ he says. ‘lt‘sjust that I seem to get the detail about the girls right.‘ So Lux. screwing a succession of undeserving men on the roof of her house whispers to one. ‘l’ut it in. Just fora minute. lt‘ll make us feel close.‘ The sisters are enticing. exotic. sleazy. bizarre. but most of all enigmatic. ‘I didn't have sisters. I‘d go to friends' houses where there were girls living and there was always a sense of their being distant. mysterious.‘
Eugcnides gave up. dissatisfied. part way through writing the book. A friend
urged him to carry on. and when he came up with the collective narrator. the thing ﬁnally gelled. The boys recount the Lisbon story retrospectively. years after the girls' deaths. Adult now. they retain their obsession with the sisters. their memories perhaps more potent than real life with real wives. The suicides are ambiguous. open to multiple interpretations. In Germany. Eugenides says. they have been read as a dark statement on the American way. which amuscs him. ‘Maybe it’s their temperament; orjust the translation.“
His task now is to follow The Virgin Suicides; he doesn‘t know what with and isn't visibly bothered. Possibly something on India where he spent some time. Or on religion. which intrigues him — his brother is a born- again Christian.
Whatever he chooses. Eugenides‘ work will attract more attention. and so will he. As well as talent. he has glamour. He‘s a mix of forthcoming and reserved. odd and conventional. lle‘rl like a wife and children. Thinks marriage would be nice. But he appears to check idealistic and romantic tendencies with cynicism. He‘s sharp not schmaltzy. And he‘s funny.
‘Wanna see my Salman Rushdie impersonation?‘ He looks away briefly. then turns back with Salman Rushdie‘s face. It's very good. except that Rushdie has put on weight in captivity. Eugenides laughs and shrugs. ‘I can‘t do fat.‘
The Virgin Suicides is published by Blomnshury a! £15. 99.
Authors at Waters tonc's
WATERSTONE'S . \ ROOKSELLERS )
will sign copies of her celebrated biography
(Waterstone's July Book of the Month) AT
Authors at Waterstone's
ON «g. WEDNESDAY 23RD JUNE AT 1PM s \\. § S»; All Welcome 3:: J S Signed copies may be reserved by r ung ang, auiimi l d wans t 1 h . the branch § will talk and sign copies of her new paperback 8 ep onlng 3 § T I tRonl‘IUCSdi‘YBZZ‘ Jtuncgt HOWEm b h g: 132 Union Street, Glasgow (31 3QI—I f CV 0 0W OUSC, l' S 0 uare, I] [If S: g Enquiries to James Thin. 53 South Bridge? Edinburgh, 03l-5g56 6743 :35 tel: 3 9,3:
.ZWJW13%%5¢%¢%55’.W/// zﬂﬁiitﬁf'mf .3322 gm--- _. _-_ 55 The List l8 June-kl July I993