September 15, 2013

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex is one of those books that where when you're reading it, and someone asks what it's about, "hermaphrodites" just doesn't cover it.  Even though that's what the book is about.  But it is so much more than that as well. 

Calliope was born under some unusual circumstances.  First, there is the family history; grandparents with a very big secret, parents who almost didn't get together, and a myriad of other things that lead to Cal's conception.  Then there are genetics.  Genetics cause Cal to be born very different, but noone realizes it due to a series of chance happenings and it isn't until the teenage years when it is discovered that Cal may not be the little girl that she was raised as.  Throughout all of this, we have Cal as the narrator during the adult years and the tribulations that come up as a result of this unconventional life.

Cal is a very complex character.  As an adult narrator he is very descriptive with his life and eloquent at the same time.  You can almost believe he is a real person.  And he doesn't seem to dwell on his bad luck either.  For someone who went through a great deal, he's likable.  As a little girl, he expresses the right amount of confusion.  Even if the questionable gender wasn't there, it's a moving story with complicated issues and real life scenarios.  The feelings for the classmates, the complications with the brother, it's all very life-like.  The grandparents were also interesting to read about, although I think their story could have been developed a little better.  And the parents probably had the least time of all, although we learn a little about them.

The whole story is interesting.  Even if Cal wasn't hermaphroditic (which you do know from the beginning of the story, so I'm not giving anything away) the whole family history and childhood was well developed enough that the book is still remarkably written.  Eugenides has a way with words and you get sucked into the story right away.  While the pace does dodder a bit, since it feels like a real story it actually is ok.  I love home Eugenides took the time to really explain the events that fell into creating Cal.  Everything had meaning.  And some of the way he writes feels like a movie, which I think was intended.  You can kind of see the slow motion and scenes flashing by that he describes.  He also intersperses it so well with real history that everything seems plausible.

I think this is a tremendously well written book.  It may not be for everyone because of the subject matter, but really, its one that you should give a shot!

Copyright 2002
529 pages

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