Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

A few months ago, my book club chose to read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. It sounded really interesting and promised to be well-written since it won a Pulitzer Prize. The story is about Calliope/Cal Stephanides--a third generation Greek American living in Detroit. The Stephanides family originally came from a small village in Turkey, but fled when war came to their area. Calliope's grandmother and grandfather trek to America by boat and are married on their journey. They live as any immigrant does--working hard to earn a living and hoping to attain the "American Dream". There are a few things that get in the way, namely Prohibition and a secret the two keep from the future generations of their family.

Enter Calliope. The secret her grandparents kept have had a serious effect on her life. Born as an intersex individual, Calliope is unaware of her condition until adolescence. Her story is that of a young girl who was raised a girl and identifies herself as a girl until she finds out that puberty has just not hit her in the same way that it has manifested itself in other young girls. This understandably is coupled with an identity crisis for her and she eventually becomes Cal.

While this is a major plot point, there is quite a bit of other narrative about her family and their American journey. I almost felt that it overshadowed the plot of her being intersex, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that while it is an intricate part of the plot, the book itself is more about the generational immigrant family that moves from being very Greek to very American. It is extremely well-written; Eugenides has a gift for words. However, when our book club got together to talk about it, we were all much more interested in Calliope's story than any of her family's. Because of this, I was a little disappointed in the book. It was almost as if Cal's being intersex was incidental to the story. I had hoped that Eugenides would bring in the fact that she was intersex before he actually did in the book, but because his writing was so good, I felt it still fit.

After reading the book, I said I thought it was just ok, but I still gave it 4 out of 5 stars because of the writing. I still feel like the characters in the novel were fairly disaffected, and there were some parts that were just outlandish. I would still recommend it to people that were wanting to read a book about immigrant families from Greece or Turkey. I also think it brings up some good conversation about gender issues and intersex people and makes for a good book club choice. I will say that I read the book over about a three day period, and I feel I would have liked it better had I read it in smaller doses. Most of the people in our book club liked the book, and I think none of us were very disappointed.


Whitney said...

My book club read this last year, and everyone had a hard time reading it, finding the subject matter a little difficult. I was torn between wanting to learn more about Cal's disorder and being satisfied with the information given. I did love the writing style, and am glad your book club enjoyed it.

Carin said...

We read it last year for my book club too. I was disappointed, particularly for a Pulitzer winner. I found parts a bit ostentatious and I thought the author as a little show-offy (like naming Calliope's brother Chapter Eleven and NEVER EXPLAINING IT. That still drives me crazy!) But yes, it was really well-written. I liked all the details about Detroit. I really got a great feel for the city and the era. I wasn't crazy about the ending. Didn't make me want to read any more Eugenidies

Carin said...

Oh I think I have an answer for Chapter 11. My husband pointed out that Chapter 11 was actually introduced in the 11th chapter of the book. Also, he ended up bankrupting the business so it follows that his name should in fact be, Chapter 11. What do you think?

Carin said...

AHA! I knew there had to be some explanation. But this just emphasizes my point about the author being a show-off. But thank you so so so much - that's been bothering me for over a year now!

Whitney said...

I had been wondering about the Chapter 11 thing too, but then again, there are "Apples" and "Pilot Inspectors" out there so anything's possible. Thanks for the clear up.

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