Poor Jeffrey Eugenides. Every book he writes is going to be “good, but it’s not Middlesex” at best to me. It’s not fair to the man. He’s a great writer, but damn was Middlesex a fucking masterpiece. I keep chasing that high. I had the same thing with Michael Chabon; my first experience was with the author’s best, most-intriguing-subject-matter book that was tailor made for me, so everything else was going to suffer by comparison. Any writer would be lucky to have one Middlesex in their career, so why do I constantly expect Eugenides to have two? I haven’t gone back to read my review of The Marriage Plot from CBR9 but I have to imagine it reads the same as this, and it’s still wrong of me this time. By any other measure this might be a five star collection.
I’m kinda doubtful though.
Even outside the shadow of Middlesex (best as I can tell from my biased vantage) this short story collection just feels like the kind of fiction that gets praised by people who’ve read The New Yorker too often and let pretension turn their taste to mush. I’d read Baster before, but this was the only story that felt enjoyable; everything else was eating your cultural vegetables, so to speak. And I’m not sure whether there was the subtext there before or I’m hopeful that Eugenides is as progressive as Middlesex would imply, but the story of someone changing out a sperm donor’s sample with his own seems an awful lot like rape without the sex now, so one hopes that the author is as critical of his protagonist as I thought this reading instead of as sympathetic as I did the first time through.