Jeffrey Eugenides’ third novel is another brilliant work of art that will undoubtedly find its place in the canon of great American literature right next to the likes of David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen. This is a story of coming of age– in every which way– from the physical to the intellectual, the emotional, and the spiritual. It is a grand journey that is made via the characters of two young men and one young woman whose lives intersect throughout four years of college and across the landscape of suburban, small town, and big city America to the grand boulevards of Paris and other such places in Europe, and eventually even to the filthy streets of Calcutta and Varanasi.
It isn’t a new theme, really– we know that in order to arrive, one must first go away– but it is presented with such finesse that one might think Eugenides invented it! And so that is what our trio does– they go away, each of them looking for love and the meaning of life. But as we know again, it is never the destination but the journey itself that reveals the answers to those elusive concepts that actually do not come wrapped, labeled, and ready for the taking. The greatest lesson in the pursuit of love and the meaning of life is perhaps the truth that what you see is not what you get– and what you get might be just what you need.
I truly savored this novel on so many levels: the frequent references to Michigan– Detroit, in particular; the world travels that included my own motherland, India; and the deep and thoughtful spiritual journeys undertaken were illuminating through and through.
The title, by the way, might be a bit misleading, because the plot one encounters in this novel is a much bigger one.
Thanks to Eugenides, the genre of the novel is very much alive and kicking!