Saturday, January 12, 2013

middlesex

You might have heard this is a story about a hermaphrodite, and it is, but it goes a lot further than that. Cal (born as Calliope) tells the story of how he discovered he was not female, as he had believed since birth, but intersex (he is male with some female traits). But to tell his story, he goes back all the way to Asia Minor in the early 1920s, because that is where his grandparents (Desdemona and Lefty) lived. After the burning of Smyrna, they move to Detroit, Michigan. The story spans 3 generations, describing in great detail the romances, occupations, finances, children, and various other stories of the Stephanides family. The past is important because it is through two cases of incest in Cal's family history that he is born intersex.

The story is beautifully written with lots of wonderful historical detail about Greek Turkey and Detroit in the 1920s. Some passages are written with great creativity and beauty. Eugenides is fantastic at finding innovative ways to describe situations we've all read about dozens of times. I also really loved reading the perspective of an intersex person, though I wish we'd gotten to hear more of Cal's feelings at vital points in the novel. 

That's one of my minor complaints. We go through hundreds of pages detailing Cal's grandparents' and parents' stories, but then we don't really get to hear how Cal makes the decision to take on a male identity (after being raised and thinking of himself as a female for 14 years). We also skip over all the in-between years (15 to whatever age Cal is during the present-day scenes in Berlin). I really wanted to hear more about those first years he began thinking of himself as a man.

But my main complaint is the length. This book is over 500 pages long and filled with extraneous detail. I would have chopped out about 200 of those pages. And if it were only 300 pages, I'd have definitely given it 4 stars instead of 3.



TITLE: Middlesex
AUTHOR: Jeffrey Eugenides
PUBLICATION DATE: 2002
DATE FINISHED: 10 January 2013
VERDICT: 3/5 Mostly lovely but too long.

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