Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 04/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>Jeffrey Eugenides

EXPLORING THE DARK ALLURE OF SUICIDE

THE IDEA OF ADOLESCENT SUICIDE BECAME an acquired fascination for Jeffrey Eugenides, 32, who was told by "a bouncy Catholic baby-sitter that she and all her sisters had at one time tried to commit suicide. When I asked why, she shrugged and said, 'Pressure.' I did have contact with other suicides, too. When I was a student at Brown, reading a lot of religion and philosophy, this guy I barely knew came into my room one day and spoke to me very intensely about Zen. I lent him a book on the subject, and shortly thereafter he went down into the basement of the Asian restaurant where he worked as a prep-chef and disemboweled himself. Then someone else I knew, after a breakdown, went home to his parents' apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan and threw himself off the roof."

He also had a fascination with female characters. "I grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, with two brothers. A house full of girls seemed otherworldly to me. I tended to exalt the idea.

"When I began writing, I would lie in bed and try to imagine one of my family members committing suicide and how betrayed and angry I'd feel. I got the beginning and end of the novel quickly, but labored over the middle. I wrote while I worked full-time at the Academy of American Poets. I wrote during a trip down the Nile."

Eugenides, who is single and lives in Brooklyn, feels blessed by having had a marvelously astute copy editor, Elaine Chubb. "She tracked down what time the sun set in June in Michigan in 1973, what kind of vaccinations would have been given that year, that late in August you'd spray rose bushes instead of pinning them. It was like sending a manuscript to God."

From Our Partners