Jeffrey Eugenides talks about 'The Marriage Plot' and pokes fun at literary theorists
Jeffrey Eugenides talks about his novels – and themes of death, suicide, and Detroit.
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Anyone reading Leonard’s character who thinks it connects with David Foster Wallace’s life I would say is mistaken.Skip to next paragraph
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What about the bandanna that Leonard wears in the novel, and the fact that he suffers from depression also? Isn’t that similar to David Foster Wallace?
The bandanna that Leonard wears, I put that on him because of Axl Rose, the singer from Guns N’ Roses. There are some things in Leonard that are reminiscent of Wallace, like Leonard putting the tobacco tin in his boot. Wallace used to put his tobacco tin in his sock. But the totalities of the two characters are completely different. Leonard’s parents are divorced, Wallace’s were not; Leonard is from Portland, Wallace was not; Leonard grew up very poor, Wallace did not; Leonard is a biologist, Wallace was not; Leonard gets married at 22, Wallace did not; Wallace was a writer with depression, a very different disease to manic depression. I could go on and on. If you look at the two of them, they are not very alike.
You write about genes and biology in this book, as you do in your second novel “Middlesex." What are your own views on the gene-centered view of
If you talk to geneticists, they are constantly finding that your genes are being switched on and off because of the environment. Genes alone do not determine an exact path in your life. It’s a strong influence, and you can’t discount it, but it’s not that simple, it’s much more complex. The part that’s not determined is where free will exists, and I think it is important to remind people of the extent of our free will. An entirely mechanistic view of life is not only inaccurate, it is rather depressing, I think.
Was the character of Mitchell in “The Marriage Plot” based on a younger Jeffrey Eugenides?
One part of Mitchell’s story that comes close to my life is that I did take a lot of religious studies courses in college and got very interested in religion and thought
about converting to Catholicism, even though I was brought up as a Greek Orthodox. I thought I wanted to become a scholar of religion, and I chose not to do that, and to keep pursuing writing. In a very grandiose, self-dramatizing way, I thought of Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” rejecting the priesthood and becoming a writer in the same way. That’s the level to which Joyce influenced me. It’s amazing because it changed certain decisions in my life. That is my point about “The Marriage Plot.” You read books and they change your life.
J.P. O'Malley is a freelance writer based in London.