Novelist Jeffrey Eugenides lives in that ivy-covered, red brick New Jersey set piece called Princeton, but his roots are in the gritty freeways and ethnic neighborhoods of Detroit, the metropolis that gave us General Motors and the Motown sound.
"The city remains very important to me. I think it's the experience of Detroiters to be attached to what remains and what has vanished. The Chrysler plant used to stand here, and you used to drive by it. Or, my grandfather's bar on Jefferson Avenue. I've been getting emails from people who grew up around the corner from it. I'm learning more about my grandfather's bar now than I knew when he was alive," the author said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Eugenides, 52, won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2003 novel, "Middlesex." He speaks tonight at 7:30 in Oakland's Carnegie Music Hall as part of Literary Evenings, a series of 10 lectures made possible by the Drue Heinz Trust.
Like Mitchell Grammaticus, one of the three main characters in his latest novel, "The Marriage Plot," Mr. Eugenides has traveled the world, doing stints as a volunteer for Mother Teresa in India and writing for Yachtsman magazine.
"I went through a religious search when I was about the same age as Mitchell, as lots of young people do. I was baptized Greek Orthodox, but I wasn't raised in the church," said the writer, who teaches in Princeton University's creative writing program.
Perhaps his heavyweight storytelling chops can be traced to his Greek ancestry. Whatever the source of his talent, "The Marriage Plot" is a raw, witty novel that will amuse students and transport older readers back to those bright, carefree days when the very stars of heaven seemed new.
The book's other main characters, Madeleine Hanna and Leonard Bankhead, graduate from Brown University in 1982, one year before Mr. Eugenides completed his own studies at the Rhode Island school.
Despite the passage of 30 years, Mr. Eugenides said, "The emotional terrain seems to be the same. Falling in love is still as rapturous and difficult as it used to be. Boyfriends continue to be confusing, mysterious and charming.
"Any writer is quite fascinated with the human experience. Half of that experience is female. I don't want to say I have binders of women. I think a writer needs to have binders full of men and women," he said, laughing heartily.
With director Greg Mottola and producer Scott Rudin, Mr. Eugenides is at work on a screenplay for a movie version of "The Marriage Plot." His earlier novel, "The Virgin Suicides," was adapted for film and directed by Sofia Coppola.
"We're just getting the outline done. They've given me the nifty sofware Final Draft," the author said, adding that the process of writing a screenplay is collaborative and the "actual word-by-word construction is not as rigorous as a novel."
The author, whose favorite novel is "Anna Karenina," is also finishing a collection of short stories.
"I don't think there is anything more difficult than writing a short story or a novel," he said.books
Marylynne Pitz: email@example.com or 412-263-1648.