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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.
In case you haven't heard, the book is about Callie, a young girl who doesn't quite fit in. She is taller and thinner than everything else and doesn't possess the natural grace of other girls her age. All Callie wants is to grow into a woman so she can have children of her own.
Unfortuately, Mother Nature had a different plan for her. When Callie was born, her doctor failed to realize that something about her wasn't quite right: she was born with malformed genitalia. She is actually a male hermaphrodite.
Because no one bothered to find out why Callie wasn't maturing as expected, she lived into her teenage years before learning who she really was. When Callie finally learns of her actual identity, she embraces it and begins living her life as Cal. Cal will then have to find a way to relate to a family that knew him as Callie.
Before you read this book, keep in mind that the author takes about one hundred pages to actually introduce Callie. He sets up an intriguing backstory explaining why what happened to Cal happened. The book also ends too quickly, leaving the reader wanting to know more about the life that Cal makes for himself.
Middlesex is a great read and it really makes you care about the characters.