Saturday, January 31, 2009

4. "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides

Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

“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 Petosky, Michigan, in August of 1974” (Eugenides 3). This is the first sentence of Jeffrey Eugenides second novel, Middlesex. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2003 and certainly earned that title.

Eugenides weaves a beautiful and intricate story much like the silk worms he writes about. Middlesex is more than a story; it is a genealogy. Starting with Lefty and Desdemona, the plot unravels and knots and then untangles again in an enthralling circular narrative told by Cal, formerly Calliope. Cal was born Calliope and unbeknownst to him, is an intersexed individual; something he inherited from his Greek ancestry and long line of incestuous familial ties.

The plot starts with Lefty and Desdemona, Cal’s grandparents. They travel to America after their home in Bithynios is destroyed. The rest of the plot traces the genealogy of the Stephanides family and the defective gene that is passed down the family line.

Reading this book was like looking through a family scrapbook. Each character becomes so real and so dynamic one cringes with Cal/Calliope as s/he undergoes inspection by various doctors and researchers and one celebrates with Lefty and Desdemona when they survive the fires in Smyrna.

Eugenides has done his research as each chapter is full, not only of gut-wrenching character sketches and anecdotes, but rich histories. Three generations of the Stephanides family saw great changes in the world and Eugenides documents these changes and events in believable and lyrical ways. From violence between Greece and Turkey in the 1920’s, to Black Nationalism in Detroit, and the Gay Rights movement in San Francisco, Eugenides’s plot unwinds like a ball of yarn to create a something beautiful, mythical, believable and real.

4.5 darts out of 5.

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