Middlesex

by Jeffrey Eugenides

Review by KM

I tend to write book reviews for books that are coming out soon or recent releases, but with doing Pop Sugar’s challenge, I have found myself reading books that have been out for awhile. Since books don’t tend to get a long lifespan on the shelves at bookshops, I definitely want to highlight some books that could help you with the challenge and may already be available at your public library.

This particular book, Middlesex, could count in many categories on the challenge: Pulitzer’s Prize Winner (which is what I chose), A Book By An Author You’ve Never Read, or even a Book By An Author With The Same Initials (if yours are also JE).

Summary

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license…records my first name simply as Cal.”

So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.

Musings

I truthfully thought this was a memoir when I started reading it. I only realized I was wrong after Wikipedia-ing the book thirty pages into the story. The narrative just had a sender of authenticity to it that many other novels lack. While I knew nothing of Cal, but so much about their family, I was fully engrossed by page thirty, completely invested in their well-being. As someone who had a problem feeling attached to the characters in a memoir, being so connected to these in the pseudo-autobiography was strange, but delightful.

On the same note, I find my mistake to be somewhat alarming. While I, a cisgendered female, finds the writing realistic, I would have preferred to read a similar text written by someone truly intersex, giving a voice to someone with real insight.

(Warning, slight spoiler ahead) One of the larger issues I see is how Cal’s mutation is in conjunction with their grandparent’s inbreeding. While I’m not sure of this is a scientific reason behind intersex babies, it certainly doesn’t paint a good view of the real people out there. More than that, what happens to Cal’s grandfather on the day on their birth could even be said to be punishment for the inbreeding, further relating it to their being intersex. The whole issue left me with a bit of a bad aftertaste.

That being said, this is countered by passages that encourage a lack of shame for being intersex, as well as a shift from viewing it as being a disease that needs to be fixed with surgery during infancy. Cal claims to be working on his own self acceptance even now, during his middle aged years.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the examination of gender roles and specific traits related to such. With such great writing and compelling characters, I can surely see why it won the Pulitzer.

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