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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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Top Customer Reviews
The histories Eugenides presents, Kemal’s post World War I Turkey, American prohibition, and the mid-twentieth century labor and racial tensions which Detroit underwent, at that time the fifth most populous city in the country, provide a backdrop against which the reader can struggle to understand the choices made by individual characters.
The story strikes an emotional depth, but for this reader the quality of Eugenides’ prose takes this work to a level worthy of the accolades it has received. Poetry. Eugenides uses lists and strong imagery to make his story an incontrovertible reality. In virtually every paragraph Eugenides invokes all the senses. It occurs to me that the sense of smell is perhaps the most primal, and the sense that stirs most our memories. For me, when water is poured on a camp or charcoal fire, immediately I am transported to 1965, Queens Street Station in Glasgow, Scotland. I am five years old, my mother is wearing a white faux fur coat and a gigantic black steam engine has just come to rest at the platform. Scent and memory. Eugenides uses the sense of smell to create texture and resonance in ways that few writers do. Some of the readers who have commented on this novel have complained that the intricacy and detail distracted them from the story. This reader would suggest that it is the attention that Eugenides pays to detail, the scents, the colors, the sounds and textures, his lists of observations, that lift this novel from story to art.
The first 50% of the book is background story of Callie/Cal’s heritage. Who he came from, where he came from why he came to be before he ever came to be. Some of the details seemed unimportant to that aspect unless in fact the main point of the story was the history of this family. So I diligently read the first 50% with Cal interjecting from time to time and narrating in an omnipresent way that rather baffled me. Still I wonder how he supposedly knew all he did. For me it would have been much better narrated by an unknown all seeing person that would allow me to explain away how I was be informed about stuff that Cal would have never known.
After 50% we start getting into more of Cal’s childhood, his life and being him. But unlike the first part of the book where he seems to know everything, talking about himself instead seems rather difficult. It is as if he is not comfortable describing his life and giving much details and this felt rather frustrating. Even if it is a device or perhaps a way to emphasize how he feels about himself it was rather annoying after the time I spent getting to know his family when what i wanted was the exploration and insite into Cal.
It was not until 80% when I finally got what I was looking for when I started this journey of a novel. For me this is what I thought the focus would be and it is where I finally became engrossed again in the story. Truth is between 60 & 80% of the book I contemplated putting it down and walking away I was so frustrated. I am glad I stuck it out but still it was not enough of an ending to make up for the blah of the middle. For me it felt like two separate books and I would have happily read the book on the family history as a separate story all together and then one on Cal/Callie if only the depth of exploration in to Cal’s life was further explored.
A very informative read that I found enlightening in many ways and am glad I read but not sure I will ever explore it again.
The story begins in the Mediterranean, in the midst of 1920s turmoil of war, with Cal's grandparents and follows the family as it grows, in the midcentury turmoil of prejudice and industrialism in Detroit. It's a fascinating study not just of these places or characters as they evolve, a mash-up of Old World style adapting to the New World, but their subsequent generations evolving through the years and the silken threads that connect them all. Being from Chicago, I totally recognized the book as a love letter to Detroit in its alternately brawny, beautiful and decrepit, fading Midwestern glory.
Eugenides' writing style is fresh, poetic and engaging. I literally could not put it down. Even while brushing my teeth I had to keep reading.
Cal is a complex character, and it's fascinating how her perspective flows so easily between female and male.
Many recurring elements and characters are woven into the family's story making it a brilliant tapestry.
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