Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Published: Picador USA, 2002
Where I Got It: My favorite thrift store
Why I Read It: Goodreads College Student's group read!
I'm not sure I would have ever picked up this book if it hadn't been a group read. I think it was really the Oprah's Book Club sticker on the front, which would have revealed to the world that I had succumbed to the masses (Oprah and I have a love/hate relationship). Nevertheless, I'm so glad I did.
Middlesex is a fictional story of a man named Cal Stephanides with a condition called 5-alpha-reductase deficiency...aka, he is a hermaphrodite. He was raised as a girl (called Calliope), but never hits puberty. That raised questions, and when he learned of his 'condition,' Cal instantly accepted and adapted himself as a boy. He basically walked out of the door, shed his girl clothes, got a haircut, and was a boy.
I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here, as Cal's story and transformation is really only the last third of the book. In the previous pages, we meet his peculiar and unforgettable family. The first part of the book is about his grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty. We learn about the beginnings of their extremely odd relationship and their emigration to America after fleeing the 1922 Greek/Turkish war. In the second part, Desdemona and Lefty are assimilating into American culture and trying to survive in their new country. Cal’s parents, Tessie and Milton, also come into the picture against a backdrop of economic troubles and race riots in Detroit. Finally, Cal makes his entrance in 1960, only as a little girl. We follow Cal throughout the rest of the book as he grew up, went to school, made friends and was a seemingly normal girl. It was only until he was around 10-11 that things started to get tweaky. In my opinion, that’s where the book really hits its stride and takes off.
The author does not mince words or gloss over the details. We read every detail of Cal’s awkward encounters with both males and females, his body parts, and other’s thoughts on his condition. The reader is told all of this by a middle-aged Cal, written in a memoir form. The remembrance of his life brings us and Cal a fresh new perspective.
One of my biggest problems was that the Calliope/Cal transformation is so abrupt that I felt it lacked any emotion. The rest of Cal’s experiences are filled with emotion and personal insight, but this big change almost came out of nowhere. It was hard for me to understand why he accepted this change so easily. Also, the author has a thing with names, or a lack of names. Cal’s grandfather is named Lefty, his brother is Chapter Eleven, and Cal’s friend/source of infatuation is only known as ‘The Object.’ Unknown/unexplained nicknames are a pet peeve of mine.
Middlesex is not your typical coming of age story. It is extremely awkward in places and sometimes difficult to think about. Even though it's fiction, it's still very real. Jeffrey Eugenides is a great writer and has developed an interesting plot. Even though this is not the type of book I would typically read, I enjoyed it immensely. 4 stars.