Book Review: Middlesex
Posted March 25, 2012on:
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002, 529 pp.
Middlesex is just the kind of epic, multi-generational novel I love. It had rich characters who experience strange relationships and personal transformation. It offered a window into other communities and cultures outside my experience. And it told a compelling story about fascinating characters I could imagine in real life.
Middlesex is the story of a hermaphrodite, raised as a girl, who comes to discover “she” is genetically male. The novel traces the roots of this unique genetic code to the history of intermarriage from her grandparents’ small Greek village. The background of the story tells of the Turkish invasion of Greece, the immigrant Greek community in Michigan, the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and the evolving understanding of intersexuality. It is the story of a singular life, told across multiple generations.
I found the book compelling from the opening pages, but it took me quite a few chapters to come to like the narrator. The book is told in first person by the adult Cal, who initially sounds callous and distant. It is always challenging as a reader to have a narrator you don’t like. It was Desdemona (Cal’s grandmother) that first won my heart, and then it was Calliope (Cal’s childhood name as a girl). By the middle of the book, however, Cal’s voice had one me over, and I had learned to like him as well.
Middlesex is a beautiful novel, from beginning to end. I recommend it to anyone looking for a deeper exploration of the human mind, gender and the way biology and family conspire to give shape to identity. I look forward to reading more from Jeffrey Eugenides.