Straight, married dad Jeffrey Eugenides’ awesome imagination brings fictional androgynous hero to life; Pulitzer winner visits Dallas to discuss “‘Middlesex’
It’s difficult to sum up Jeffrey Eugenides’ second novel, “Middlesex.” But “impeccable, breathtaking and hilarious” are a good start.
An epic tale that traces three generations of Greeks on two continents, the saga winds from the small Greek village of Smyrna to the crime-ridden streets of Detroit. At the center of “Middlesex” is Calliope Stephanides, who at 13, learns she’s actually male, which is due to a particular recessive gene. Smart and sensitive, Calliope is a fabulous creature and one of the 21st century’s greatest narrators. And Eugenides never treats her like a freak. His first novel, “The Virgin Suicides,” was adapted and made into a film directed by Sophia Coppola. But “Middlesex” is a masterpiece of contemporary fiction, winning Eugenides a Pulitzer in 2003.
Married and with a daughter, Eugenides is the last person you’d expect to write a book featuring an intersex main character. Or is it?
“I was eager to write such a book,” Eugenides said earlier this week during a phone interview from his home in Chicago. “Hermaphrodism is an idea in human culture that has existed for thousands of thousands of years in classical Greek myths. A person changing genders is not something most people haven’t wondered about or aren’t a little bit fascinated about.”
During the nine years he spent meticulously crafting “Middlesex,” Eugenides said wrapping his head around gender issues never halted production. Initially, however, it took a while to win over a wide audience. And then it really won them over.
“When you write a book, you are in your room writing it because you have an interest in the subject matter. Whether someone has a problem with it is not something that really comes to your attention,” he said. “The topic is one that all kinds of readers have been able to embrace. Maybe the book had a slower time to build a popularity because the subject matter was off-putting to some. But three years after the publication, it’s reassuring to know that it’s read all over the country and in all kinds of communities.”
According to its author, the book has sold more than 1 million copies. By creating Calliope Stephanides, Eugenides may have given America its first intersex sweetheart. But what about another androgynous sweetheart: Bree, Felicity Huffman’s character from “Transamerica.”
“I haven’t seen the movie,” Eugenides said. “But I understand that in the current edition of People magazine, Felicity Huffman was photographed holding a copy of “‘Middlesex.'”
As part of the Arts & Letters Live series, Eugenides discusses “Middlesex” at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood St. Friday at 7:30 p.m. $15-$30. Auditorium seats are sold out. Overflow tickets are available. 214-922-1220.
ANN RICHARDS SPEAKS AT UNT
A gifted orator with a Texas twang, Ann Richards is a national treasure. And in the Lone Star State, she’s a legendary Democrat even conservatives pay proper respects.
On Friday, as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series, the 45th governor of Texas beats the liberal drum at the University of North Texas.
Currently, Richards is a senior advisor at Public Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps companies analyze, develop and implement their public agendas. She also serves on the board of several corporations, and occasionally provides political commentary for cable and broadcast television networks. In 2003, Richards gave a spellbinding speech at the Dallas-Fort Worth Black Tie Dinner firing up the audience by telling them that conservatives were on the move and enraged by successes in the gay community. Not only is she great with quotable punch lines, Richards is also a spot-on prognosticator.
UNT University Union, one block west of Welch and West Prairie streets, Denton. Silver Eagle Suite. Friday at 8 p.m. $20. 940-565-3805.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 3, 2006.