Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Yeah. I’m in Mexico with only four books. J. California Cooper’s Some Love, Some Pain. Two short story anthologies: The Best American Short Stories of the Century & Gumbo. And one other novel: Middlesex. Finished Cooper’s book and passed it on to one of the few black girls at school with me here in Mexico. We agreed that the short stories are interesting, but that they seem like the same story over and over with a slight twist.

So really, I only have one novel left. One would assume that it would consume me. After all, it’s a Pulitzer Prize winner and an Oprah’s BookClub selection (if those things mean anything any more).

Middlesex. I’ve wanted to read it for sometime, but for the life of me, I can’t explain to people what it’s about. My cousin said he loved the book, but I’m still trying to figure it out. I’ve also discovered that the description on the back of the book doesn’t seem to interest anybody (including me). I mean, guess it’s about a hermaphrodite and his/her family history. I’m only on page 68 so this hasn’t exactly been confirmed. I wanted to officially stop reading at page 30, but since I don’t have any other choices—thanks to my boyfriend who suggested that I remove my novels to lighten my suitcase load—I pushed on. It’s not bad. I’m getting into it. Here’s an Amazon summary:

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” And so begins Middlesex, the mesmerizing saga of a near-mythic Greek American family and the “roller-coaster ride of a single gene through time.” The odd but utterly believable story of Cal Stephanides, and how this 41-year-old hermaphrodite was raised as Calliope, is at the tender heart of this long-awaited second novel from Jeffrey Eugenides, whose elegant and haunting 1993 debut, The Virgin Suicides, remains one of the finest first novels of recent memory.

Eugenides weaves together a kaleidoscopic narrative spanning 80 years of a stained family history, from a fateful incestuous union in a small town in early 1920s Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit; from the early days of Ford Motors to the heated 1967 race riots; from the tony suburbs of Grosse Pointe and a confusing, aching adolescent love story to modern-day Berlin. Eugenides’s command of the narrative is astonishing. He balances Cal/Callie’s shifting voices convincingly, spinning this strange and often unsettling story with intelligence, insight, and generous amounts of humor:

Emotions, in my experience aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” … I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic traincar constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” … I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.

When you get to the end of this splendorous book, when you suddenly realize that after hundreds of pages you have only a few more left to turn over, you’ll experience a quick pang of regret knowing that your time with Cal is coming to a close, and you may even resist finishing it–putting it aside for an hour or two, or maybe overnight–just so that this wondrous, magical novel might never end.

“Splendorous book?” I’ll be the judge of that! Sadly, the following negative Amazon reader review did not encourage further reading on my behalf. Especially since I feel like I can relate to where he/she’s coming from:

On a friends recommendation (one of the best books she has ever read), I selected this as my ONLY book on a trip to a non-english speaking country. Big mistake. I struggled through 75 pages (vowed to make it to 100 – but could not)and set it aside for an Italian version of People Magazine. This book just never hooked me, it was all over the place with very strange characters with whom I could not identify (and I like strange characters normally.) Not my deal. Glad others like it.

Another unfortunate thing is the fact that I have been unable to find a bookstore with English novels in Mexico. My Spanish expertise is not advanced enough to struggle through a Spanish novel, nor do I wish to do so. If you’ve read Middlesex, please leave a comment for inspiration sake! Although I don’t have any other reading choices at this time. My family doesn’t love me enough to send a care package. (GRUMBLE) In the meantime, me being a multi-sensory kinda learner, take a look at the various book covers for the novel. I also ask that you question what some of this cover art has to do with anything. I always do. Do publisher’s consult the author before they produce these versions?

Get more Middlesex on Oprah.com. Happy reading, ya’ll!

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6 thoughts on “Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

  1. …But there’s nothing more rewarding than struggling through a foreign language novel; you could begin with poetry, then progress to a short story. It’d lighten the misery of only having Middlesex… I’ve not read it myself, but I’ve read The Virgin Suicides and it struck me as very lightweight, bordering cliche…

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  2. Please keep reading! I love Middlesex; it is one of my favorite books. It is a bit dense, but I thought it worked. Perhaps it was because I lived in Detroit at the time and could relate to some of the stuff he said about the riot and whatnot. Either way, I thought it was a great book with a very interesting narrator. When do you get back anyway?

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  3. I’m sorry…you need some encouragement to keep reading Middlesex but I can offer you little. I finished reading it a few weeks ago and I am still unsure of why it won a Pulitzer Prize. The narration was sometimes disjointed.(Why does the narrator refer to him/herself in first person and then in third person?) I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it ends just as the story is unfolding. Two thirds of the novel is history and I felt like the author rushed to finish the book and leaves too many questions. The description on the back to the book is deceiving. It is 2/3 history and one part prose. But do push through – the last 100 pages may be worth it.

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  4. If you need something to read, how about a writer in Harlem’s online novel? I post a chapter a day. When it gets published, which it will, you can say you were one of the first.

    Hope Mexico is good.

    Check out the first chapter and see if you get hooked.

    Thanks.

    -Stal

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  5. Yes…read Stalherz novel. I’ve just started it.

    And Middlesex…was alright. I didn’t see what the big fuss was about. the end was kinda anti-climatic to me.

    Some Love….is a WONDERFUL read. I love J. Claifornia Cooper.

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  6. Hola, vivo en Aguascalientes, México. Encontré tu página porque estoy leyendo Middlesex y quería ver opiniones de otros lectores, antes de recomendar el lbro en mi grupo de lectura. Estoy de acuerdo contigo en cuanto a lo absurdo de las imágenes en la portada del libro en las diferentes ediciones, yo sólo encontré la edición en español con la imagen en la cubierta de la niña dando con un martillo a un corazón…hubiera preferido la cubierta negra de una edición en inglés. La había visto en Sanborn´s, pero no lo compré y después que volví decidida a comprarlo ya no estaba. Puedes encontrar algunas novelas en inglés en México en Sanborn´s, en Ghandi, en El Sótano, y en DF hay una librería de libros en inglés en el Eje 5 Sur San Antonio, también hay otra en Prado Norte, en Las Lomas, pero creo que es mas literatura infantil. De cualquier forma, creo que cuando uno está aprendiendo un idioma lo mejor es leer
    en el idioma que se está estudiando.

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