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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

“Middlesex” the nexus between art & street

Jeffrey Eugenides won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for this novel (yes, the same prize that didn’t award any prize for 2011) about three generations of a Greek family — coming from Turkey to Detroit; spanning Prohibition to Race Riots, and Tang to Nair and TAB — who intermarry and, finally, the product is Calliope, a girl with brains, wit, and a deep, unabiding secret.

With some astounding feats of authorial prestidigitation, Eugenides has conjured the language and “things” we Americans said and bought and used daily around the house (and put into our bodies) during the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and especially the ’70s. For someone who grew up during that messed-up decade, seeing the products of the day was a flash to my own past — and something I’ve been diddling with myself, as the book I’m now working on jumps through the ’50s – 2014; all kinds of fun to be had.

Eugenides brands Detroit, and America, such as it is: inhospitable, but with possibility … or, at least, opportunity:

april 15, 2012

“Judge Woodward envisioned the new Detroit as an urban Arcadia of interlocking hexagons. Each wheel was to be separate yet united, in accordance with the young nation’s federalism, as well as classically symmetrical, in accordance with Jeffersonian aesthetics. This dream never quite came to be. Planning is for the world’s great cities, for Paris, London, and Rome, for cities dedicated, at some level, to culture. Detroit, on the other hand, was an American city and therefore dedicated to money, and so design had given way to expediency.”

“Like many amateurs, Dr. Phil assumed that the only proper subject for art was a picturesque landscape that had nothing to do with his experience. He painted sea vistas he’d never seen and forest hamlets he’d never visited, complete with a pipe-smoking figure resting on a log. Dr. Philobosian never talked about Smyrna and left the room if anyone did. He never mentioned his first wife, or his murdered sons and daughters. Maybe this was the reason for his survival.”

– Jeffrey Eugenides, “Middlesex”

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