Q&A With Jeffery Eugenides
I noticed that the form of the book paralleled parts of the characters' lives and historical time periods. For instance, the opening alludes to Greek Mythology with references to Mt. Olympus. The section on the Ford plant seemed to be written in the same mechanical style as the section on turning people into extensions of machines in [John] Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. The section about adolescent confusion was written in the style of [J.D.] Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, and the ending of the novel was written in the magical realism style with the father's fantasies as he was about to die. Also, the end of the novel had a modern take on Greek mythology by turning mythological images into American commercialism with Hercules Hot Dogs and the Golden Fleece Hair Salon.
Am I reading too much into this book, or did [you] mean to parallel the plot of the family's progression with literary styles that reflected literature of the various time periods?
— Carolyn G.
You aren't reading too much into the book, Carolyn. While I didn't always intend the precise allusions you mention, you may in many places be right. I'm a great admirer of Salinger, for instance, and a lot of my stuff bears his influence. I didn't set out to refer to his work when writing about Cal's love for the Obscure Object, but any tale of adolescence necessarily evokes the great J.D.
What I did consciously intend was the following: Since Middlesex is the story of a genetic mutation, it seemed to me that the structure of the novel should represent the novelistic genome. That is, the book should contain and recapitulate various historical forms of narrative. For that reason, the novel begins with epic events (the burning of Smyrna, etc.) and gradually becomes, in its second half, a more modern psychological novel. I didn't want to get too schematic about all this. My model wasn't the "Oxen of the Sun" chapter in [James] Joyce's Ulysses (where Joyce recreates the evolution of the English language, parodying just about every great English writer in the process). I wanted this rather academic exercise to exist in the background of my story. For that reason, I never explicitly set about performing the imitations you suggest. My aim was to have this ghost literature haunt the book, there for alert, close readers like you to notice, but not mandatory for understanding or enjoying the book.
— Jeffrey Eugenides