What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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by Jeffrey Eugenides

Field-Tested by Dean Allen

in Pompignan, France

Time is tight, and I expect my novels to get to work. I want fictional bang for my nonfiction buck. Jeffrey Eugenides’ first book, The Virgin Suicides, showed a great deal of talent in its light-as-air prose, but it lacked ambition: it had no eyes on the prize, nor did its vapid, stoner-film version. But Middlesex, which I read in a hammock in Pompignan: it is excellence, it has drive, it is total service quality.

It’s a huge, rich, fragrant story. The risk for authors of multi-generation family stories such as this, lies in wanting to project characters, à la Forrest Gump, against the entire backdrop of popular history. But Eugenides has a steady hand, and he keeps the easy excesses of epic fiction at bay.

When he does choose to situate you in time and place, however, it can feel like magic. Or it can make you jealous. I loathe him for having composed so elegant a passage as the one set in the Detroit’s “Big Rouge” Ford plant in 1922, which plays out against a noisy mechanical rhythm (“Wierzbicki reams a bearing and Stephanides grinds a bearing and O’Malley attaches a bearing to a camshaft”). After a rush of virtuoso paragraphs that follow each passage along the auto assembly line, calling out times as we go (“Other workers stamp out body parts [fifty seconds], bump them [forty-two seconds]”), he caps it with a flawless dismount: “A man jumps into the front seat (three seconds), turns the ignition (two seconds), and drives the automobile away.”


Dean Allen created, abandoned, and then recreated Textism. He has also brought the world Textpattern. He lives in the South of France.

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