Jeffrey Eugenides

[Writer]

microinterviewed by Zack Ruskin

This issue features a microinterview with Jeffrey Eugenides, conducted by Zack Ruskin. The fiction of Jeffrey Eugenides spans continents and centuries, but readers of his work may notice a recurring locale. Whether prominently featured or casually mentioned, Eugenides’ upbringing in Grosse Pointe, Detroit, hovers over his books (The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex) like a thick exhaust of nostalgia and melancholy. In Marin County, California, between events on his last book tour, Eugenides spoke with Ruskin about his take on Detroit’s past significance and what possible futures await the Motor City. The accompanying illustrations are by Jason Polan, who is also from Detroit.

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MICROINTERVIEW WITH JEFFREY EUGENIDES, PART IV

THE BELIEVER: Is Detroit an accurate reflection of modern-day America?

JEFFREY EUGENIDES: You know, if you’re going to write about modern-day America, I’d probably write about San Francisco or California. Detroit is really a twentieth-century story. It’s continually trying to come back and have a resurgence, and that’s been going on for forty years now. What’s happening in Detroit at the moment, though, I wouldn’t say is that central, but the history of it is important. What you learn from is history, and the things that have happened in Detroit, the mistakes that have been made, in terms of the civic organization of the place—we should pay attention to them, so they don’t repeat themselves in other cities.

BLVR: There are other cities that have suffered social and economic disparity on par with Detroit. Why do think Detroit inherited a reputation of American urban decay?

JE: Yeah, it’s all the Rust Belt cities except for Chicago. Chicago is the only one that seems to have survived. Milwaukee, Derry, Cleveland, Cincinnati—it goes on and on. Detroit got the mantle because Detroit was the greatest of the cities, not only the biggest, but also culturally the most important. It’s associated with the automobile, which is so important, and the arsenal of democracy in World War II. I think that’s why the collapse was more extreme in Detroit, but I think the good times in Detroit were also more extreme.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

Zack Ruskin is a writer and editor living in San Francisco.

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