Middlesex

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I finished this book approximately 5 minutes ago, and normally I write down my thoughts on a story days later, but I figured I’d alter my habits and try to provide some immediate feedback. First of all, this book was atrociously long. At 500+ pages, it threw off my “3 books a month” plan because it took up practically all of April and carried over into May. This book could have been (and maybe should have been) two separate books, as there are two main storylines being told. We begin with that of the 1920s Stephanides family, caught in a Turkish invasion in Smyrna, Greece, plagued by incestuous desires as they bravely immigrate to America and start anew. They struggle to hold on to their Greek culture and to a sense of home, but as someone who was raised Orthodox, reading the descriptions of the old Greek churches, the incense, the duties of the priest’s wife, the tragedy of having a different Easter…all of it felt familiar and comforting. But that’s really the preface to the actual story of Middlesex — the story of Calliope, or “Cal,” a hermaphrodite who grows up as a girl only to learn that she’s really (hormonally) more of a boy. I could relate to her feelings of family pressure, an overbearing and worrisome mother and a Republican father, both immigrants (just like mine) who seem to be perplexed by the changing times and her older brother, only referred to as Chapter 11, who is a true 60s hippie. Almost every adult character reminded me of an uncle or someone I knew from church once upon a time, and I think that kept my interest, or at least my sympathy with Calliope. It’s hard to summarize what happens in this book since it’s really so much, but I will say that the ending was so melancholy and honest that I cried the last 20 pages. This book isn’t perfect (despite its Pulitzer Prize) but it’s emotional and full of beautiful (sometimes rambling) language and sadness and truth. How this white man is able to tell the tale of a genetically tortured teenage girl is beyond me (as a female author, I sure couldn’t write a male narrator discovering his penis for the first time) but he’s able to do it well. I’ll see if in a few days or weeks, my thoughts on this have changed.