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Would you fire this man?

July 22, 2009 | 11:33 am


Once upon a time, Jeffrey Eugenides worked as an executive secretary at the Academy of American Poets. He wrote at night, he wrote on weekends and, eventually, he wrote whenever he could while at work. Which apparently got him fired.

Maybe if he'd been writing poetry, not prose, he could have kept his job.

But since what he was working on became "The Virgin Suicides" -- now celebrating its (sweet) 16th birthday with a new paperback edition -- it's probably all for the best. The Daily Beast has a tribute:

In 1993, the same year that Eugenides turned 33, The Virgin Suicides was published in its entirety as a 249-page novel about five suicidal sisters and the boys who never get over their deaths. Michiko Kakutani called it a “piercing first novel,” and described it in her review in The New York Times as “by turns lyrical and portentous, ferocious and elegiacal…a small but powerful opera in the unexpected form of a novel.”

The music of that opera has never stopped playing. The Virgin Suicides has been translated into more than 15 languages, and for the past 16 years its tune has beckoned high-school and college-age readers, Pied Piper-style, to continue to pick it up. The novel now appears on English literature curricula at high schools and colleges around the country.

Eugenides' novel "Middlesex," which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, may be about to reach a broader audience of its own. Rita Wilson is developing a one-hour drama series for HBO based on the book. It's the second project touching on Greek heritage for Wilson, who, along with husband Tom Hanks and others, produced "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

I was entranced by the gorgeous prose of "Middlesex" but would have thought it unfilmable; we'll see. According to Broadcasting and Cable's report, HBO described the show as following "the life of Calliope Stephanides and the epic family history that may hold the answer to her complicated sexual identity."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jeffrey Eugenides in Venice in 2003. Credit: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times