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Middlesex: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – June 5, 2007
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"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. --Brad Thomas Parsons
From Publishers Weekly
As the Age of the Genome begins to dawn, we will, perhaps, expect our fictional protagonists to know as much about the chemical details of their ancestry as Victorian heroes knew about their estates. If so, Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides) is ahead of the game. His beautifully written novel begins: "Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce's study, 'Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites.' " The "me" of that sentence, "Cal" Stephanides, narrates his story of sexual shifts with exemplary tact, beginning with his immigrant grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty. On board the ship taking them from war-torn Turkey to America, they married-but they were brother and sister. Eugenides spends the book's first half recreating, with a fine-grained density, the Detroit of the 1920s and '30s where the immigrants settled: Ford car factories and the tiny, incipient sect of Black Muslims. Then comes Cal's story, which is necessarily interwoven with his parents' upward social trajectory. Milton, his father, takes an insurance windfall and parlays it into a fast-food hotdog empire. Meanwhile, Tessie, his wife, gives birth to a son and then a daughter-or at least, what seems to be a female baby. Genetics meets medical incompetence meets history, and Callie is left to think of her "crocus" as simply unusually long-until she reaches the age of 14. Eugenides, like Rick Moody, has an extraordinary sensitivity to the mores of our leafier suburbs, and Cal's gender confusion is blended with the story of her first love, Milton's growing political resentments and the general shedding of ethnic habits. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about this book is Eugenides's ability to feel his way into the girl, Callie, and the man, Cal. It's difficult to imagine any serious male writer of earlier eras so effortlessly transcending the stereotypes of gender. This is one determinedly literary novel that should also appeal to a large, general audience.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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There are endless accolades that I'm willing to sing to Eugenides about his portrayals of women, the diaspora, of Detroit, and consanguinous relationships (of which he is not critical, yay!). However, as much as I understand the importance of Cal Stephanides's story in contemporary literature, it is way too plainly written by a cisgendered person. I don't want to go into too many details, but my main beef was that NOT ONCE does Cal ever struggle with the decision that he makes. With the aftermath of it, yes, but the decision itself comes easy—and completely out of the blue.
And while writing this in 2017 does give me way more insight into options between the binary, I also am utterly convinced that choosing within the binary was way more complicated in 2001 (or 1970s) than now. So starting with the family's trip to New York, I was completely not buying it. Not in a way someone wouldn't buy magical realism: I was absolutely fine with the Jimmy Zizmo plotline, for instance. But the way Eugenides wraps it all neatly up for Cal: NO. It made me feel as if the novel was less of a passionate work, and more a calculated, plotted exercise, and even though I still cling to the hope that it's not the case, I am upset.
Eugenides, taking on the guise of Callie Stephanides an American born hermaphrodite, tells a story of the American ideal...Europeans coming to the New World with limited expectations but grand hopes. Desdemona and Lefty Stephanides, biologically brother and sister, survive the 1922 Great Smyrna Fire, which destroyed the now eastern Turkish city of Izmir, and fraudulently gain access to passage which exports them to America. There, from New York harbor and the Statue of Liberty, they make their way to Detroit and begin to procreate a lineage of Greek-strong migrants. Callie is a third generational offspring who becomes Cal, a man and United States Ambassador. Cal's childhood though is rendered as "Callie," a hermaphrodite, who is Eugenides engine for this story. Acting as a girl for her entire youth, Eugenides describes the inherent difficulties that she faces as an hermaphroditic offspring...both biological and psychological.
Couched in turbulent 1960s Detroit, we follow Callie as she struggles mightily with her identity. Espousing virtually all there is to know about this condition, Eugenides combines exacting, almost excruciating, research with the emotional drama of a child unexpectedly realizing that her sex is ambiguous. In episode after episode, we watch as Callie slowly realizes her dilemma and her subsequent efforts to rationalize it. Discarding parental and family emotions, she becomes a "he" while experiencing the expected hardships associated with such a life changing move. Deep and sometimes flawed personal insights abound as this transformation slowly grows. We're, at the end, left with Cal, the man and principal combatant who becomes the literal hero of the work.
Although sometimes overwhelming and unnecessarily provocative, this work is nonetheless a tour de force. Combining exquisite history with an understated but informative voice, "Middlesex," although of a quality below that of a Pulitzer Prize winner (which this work actually won in 2003) in my opinion, is nevertheless an engaging and exhortative read...full of illuminating and nuanced refinement. When undertaking this though, be committed to a long but not totally unrewarded experience.
Greetings fellow members, I enjoyed the book discussion on last Saturday. It was very interesting and wide open for good discussion. Middlesex was not an easy read. I had my doubts about finishing it in the beginning. I am not usually a lover of history which this book contained a lot of. However, in the end, it helped me to understand the situation of the young girl's journey and the decisions made by her and her family. I was quite thrilled with the outcome and Cal's recognition of the facts surrounding his birth. I thought it was odd that the old family doctor didn't discover the problem at birth. I really believe he knew something was abnormal but how to treat it might have been the problem and reason nothing was said. Lucky for Cal he was able to make his own choice and not the family. I learned a lot and appreciated the author's style of writing. It brought insight to a little known and under-discussed social and medical issue. Overall I enjoyed this New YorkTimes BestSeller and Prize-winning Book By Jeffrey Eugenides.
I pick it up about every 2-3 years and re-enjoy Callie/Cal all over again.
You will never find a more engaging, funny, sad, deep and generationally beautiful story. I love it.
Only wish his other books came close to the mark set by "Middlesex". So far they have been screaming disappointments.