Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Rating: 4 stars
Fall is in the air, so it was time to put an end to exclusively reading books under two hundred pages. Middlesex is the longest book I’ve read since The World According to Garp. The two books are strangely similar because they not only provide you with the current story (what is happening now), but they also present an in-depth look at the past (what events led up to the current story). In Middlesex, Calliope Stephanides relays his family history with cinematic tableaux.
His Greek grandparents, Lefty and Desdemona (love that name!), lost their parents at a young age. Growing up together, they were always close, often feeling as though they were the same person. Their romance budded when Lefty attempted to choose a wife among the two eligible bachelorettes in the village. He couldn’t imagine himself being married to either one or leaving his sister. Together brother and sister fled the Turkish invasion in Greece and got married on the boat bound for America. Their incestuous romance haunted them throughout their lives and continues to secretly haunt their offspring.
Unknowingly, they carried a recessive gene that causes 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. When their son, Milton, marries his first cousin, Tessie, consanguinity finally forces the gene to a dominant position in Milton and Tessie’s second child, Calliope. Born Callie, he goes through the first 14 years of his life as a female. It is only when he ends up in the hospital for unrelated injuries that Calliope learns that there is something different about him: he is biologically a male, but his genitalia doesn’t reflect that fact.
At 14, Cal strikes out on his own; he runs away from his family and begins a year of living on the streets and exploiting his body in order to survive. Middlesex is a truly fascinating study of human nature, gender, and sexual discovery. As the narrator, Cal oscillates between numerous core narratives: his grandparents’ history, his parent’s history, his own story of changing from Callie to Cal, and how he gets along today as a 40-year-old hermaphrodite. In each of these narratives Cal assumes the voice and point of view of multiple characters with surprising finesse.
My only complaint is that parts of it dragged–there were times when I thought that’s enough with the history lesson! But overall it was a great read, the ending was one of the best that I’ve read in a while.
Jeffrey Eugenides has a new book coming out in October called The Marriage Plot, which looks awesome! I might even have to pre-order it. Check out this great article from The Millions about Eugenides’s interrupting his writing on Middlesex to flirt with a new idea that inspired The Marriage Plot.