Between the Lines: Jeffrey Eugenides

Sep 29, 2017

Jeffrey Eugenides
Credit Gasper Tringale

Jeffrey Eugenides has no complaints about the life of a writer, even as he revises an earlier statement about writing as an almost holy experience. The Detroit native’s new collection of short stories is called Fresh Complaint (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017), although his audience will know him for his previous work: The Virgin Suicides; Middlesex (which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize); and The Marriage Plot.

Referring to a quote from his past, when he spoke of writing as almost a “holy experience,” Eugenides now jokes, “Wow, I’m always amazed when quotes from the past are brought back, and I wonder in what state of inebriation I uttered them. Most of the writers I know are not that holy. But, as with anything that is hard to do, that you spend years working at, there are flashes of something that might feel like very momentary enlightenment or tranquility… In general, I think writing keeps you alert to the world. Writing means being alive and as present in the moment as you can be.”

Eugenides says the stories in his new collection, Fresh Complaint, were written over many years, some during the interludes between working on his novels.

Credit Farrer, Straus and Giroux

“Because of the gap in time, and the sporadic nature in which the stories were composed, I was never conscious of a theme. There is a sort of progression in the book of a young man’s experience to a middle-aged man’s experience and a certain amount of hopes being dimmed or thwarted or reconsidered. The title story, ‘Fresh Complaint,’ is about a middle-aged man making huge mistakes and going through difficulties and coming out chastened but a little bit wiser.”

Eugenides says that, if there is a theme for the collection, it would be asking what it means to be an American in our time, and to chase the "American Dream" and being thwarted.

Eugenides attended Brown and Stanford universities. He is a professor of creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton. He will read on Saturday, October 7, at 7 p.m. in the Dalton Theater at Kalamazoo College. Tickets are required to attend the event. They are available for purchase from Bookbug online or by calling (269) 385-2847.

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