Eric recommends: ‘Middlesex,’ ‘Frankland,’ ‘Approximately Heaven’

The “Eric Recommends” feature, where I would give little book reports on what I’d read recently, isn’t around anymore. It wasn’t getting much use, and we needed space on the navigation bar for other things. Plus, I went through a phase where I was reading a ton of magazines and not as many books.

But lately I’ve had a resurgence, so you can expect several blog entries in the next little while where I recommend some of the more interesting things I’ve read in the past few months. Why, here come a few now!

“Middlesex,” by Jeffrey Eugenides. Now here’s a book for you. This Pulitzer Prize-winner tells the story of a Detroit man who was born and raised, until age 14, a girl — an actual hermaphrodite (not like Jamie Lee Curtis, who is only alleged to be one). The writing is fluid and beautiful, and the story — which begins with the subject’s grandparents in Greece — is affecting, funny, harrowing and completely absorbing.

“Frankland,” by James Whorton Jr. No Pulitzers for this slim volume, a jolly, lightweight little comedy about a 28-year-old historian with few social skills heading to rural Tennessee to find long-lost documents pertaining to President Andrew Johnson. He encounters many odd locals and much small-town weirdness on the way, of course. Much of the humor is derived from the protagonist’s formal, polite way of speaking, juxtaposed with the informality of the rural South. I love Whorton’s way with words, too. (Upon encountering a sweaty, loathsome man who has recently infuriated him, our hero says, “If there had been a way to slap his face without touching his face, I would have done it.”)

“Approximately Heaven,” by James Whorton Jr. Having read his second book first, I went back and read James Whorton’s first book second, and liked it even more than “Frankland.” It’s just as funny (albeit in a different way), but it also has just a little bit of weight to it, which “Frankland” does not. This one is still set in the rural South, but it is written from the point of view of one of the locals, and Whorton thoroughly captures his voice, his matter-of-fact way of describing things, his countryfied mannerisms. Beer is a constant bittersweet theme, providing humor as well as pathos, as the protagonist and a buddy of his go on a road trip while the former’s wife is threatening to leave. I heartily recommend this very funny, very endearing novel.