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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

January 21, 2010

December brought to me time to read an awesome book, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I’ve heard whispers of this novel and placed it on my Goodreads list, hoping to find it cheap (nothing like an inexpensive, well-loved book). On a dreary December evening, I found not only Goldie the Christmas Deer, but Middlesex at Goodwill. What a day! Briefly: Middlesex details a family’s Greek roots, their move to America, a couple of incestuous generations, and a teenage girl’s traumatic gender-switch.

I set this book on the top of my “to read” pile (I try to avoid keeping books in piles, but my two bookcases are full, so I’m left to stack). I was working on Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, as he is my favorite founding father (it’s not that hard to choose, Sarah Palin). After Part I, though, I became bored of Ben’s adventures and changed it from “currently reading” to “abandoned” on my Goodreads. I really hate to do it, Ben, but I had much more exciting books to read. I hope you understand.

Thus, I picked up Middlesex.  The last book I finished was Orlando by Virginia Woolf, which was a fabulous apéritif. Remember, Orlando is about a man who travels through time, changing genders. Middlesex involves a gender swap and literary time-travel, too! What an awesome pair! I tried to articulate to my roommate Tara what I liked so much about Middlesex. We split a bottle of wine, so I either sounded brilliant or confused. Nevertheless, I will share some with you:

1. The book spans approximately 80 years. Our narrator, Calliope, was born in 1960 as a girl, but traces his family’s roots back to Smyrna, which his grandparents fled. His grandparents were also brother and sister, and that began the genetic mutation, which produced Calliope. By the end of the novel, we’ve met back up with Calliope, now Cal, a 40-something year-old man. Through the course of 529 pages, we experience cities on fire, race riots, prep school, sex shows and invasive examinations. Eugenides crafts a story that spans many recognizable and important events in America’s political and historical culture.

2. I love anything that explores gender and sex politics. Eugenides describes Calliope’s rearing as a girly girl, and how that influences her doctor to decide she should remain a girl, even if her genetics define her as a male. Of course, Calliope discovers the truth and decides to live as she feels. This is treated very sensitively, as it culturally remains a touchy subject. I would have liked to see the novel explore more of Calliope living truly middle-sexed: our narrator jumps swiftly from girl to boy.

3. It is very well-written and extremely engrossing. I love books I don’t want to put down. (Who doesn’t?)

I think I have said plenty: I can’t recommend this book highly enough!


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