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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.
Top customer reviews
The story makes for a thrilling read. I highly recommend the book. This should be required reading for rednecks and bigots, and perhaps even for students/practitioners of genetics.
The sense of authenticity appeals to me, as does the self-deprecating humour. So much that the author and I do not have in common has still touched me and drawn me in.
The writing draws me along, from page to page. The whirls of stories within the story are picturesque and enchanting. The overall story is ultimately satisfying.
Thus we come to my titular description of a "small" epic. Although that is unfair. It would be more accurate to say that it is close, because it deals with one family, and yet that would be just as inaccurate in its own way. I would say instead that nearly every character, and certainly the family. is imbued with characteristics that deepen them; in effect, make them more real. There are exceptions of course; it is not a perfect work, but any imperfections for me were worth it for the actual experience that is the good in this book. Portions of this book, particularly the insight the author gives into our protagonist, is pure poetry. This will always be a major plus for me. Of course I was not expecting the same kind of treatment to extend to a geography, Detroit, but I could certainly handle it. Normally, I don't respond nearly so well to an author who takes on a space as muse, especially in this kind of narrative that has a depth-ness of both time and space, but again, for me it didn't detract. At worst, the long soliloquies about Detroit only slowed down the narrative. Of course as a reader, it is slightly irritating that ostensibly for the amount of time that is spent on it, the zeitgeist of Detroit is a character itself. However, I don't know how much of this is the novel itself, or simply the limitations of the genre. Any work that concerns itself heavily with the passage of history, has to deal with that history. For all of the beauty of the words then, this book is pragmatic in that sense.
But, to reiterate. When this book is good, it's good. Like candy or cake melting on the tongue. We get to see the characters as the ultimate snapshots of humanity - in highs and lows and everything in-between. Most impressively, for all that this book clothes itself in allusions towards mythology and tragedy, all of this is done without pretension.