Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 544 pages, 2002

Rating: 10/10

Reason for Reading A buzz-book of 2002/2003.

Synopsis: Middlesex follows a mutated gene through three generations of an odd and twisted family, until the gene emerges in Cal(lie), a hermaphrodite. With the gene comes a family’s legacy of incest, affairs, gambling, bootlegging, Detroit race riots, and old-world Greek superstitions.

Why you should read this book: This book reads like the car-crash everyone slows down to stare at, but is much more fascinating, as Eugenides has fleshed-out heart-breakingly real characters. Desdemona, Cal’s grandmother, grows from a naive country girl in Greece, to a fearful American full of regrets, to a crushed old woman who refuses to leave her bed for ten years.

Cal, of course, is the main draw, and will leave you reading breathlessly to discover how one deals with the unmapped territory of life and love first as a young girl, and then a man.

Eugenides’ writing is brilliant, tackling harsh subjects with sensitivity, but never pulling punches.

Why you should avoid this book: If you can’t deal with incest, hermaphrodites, and other twisted happenings, however well-written, this isn’t the book for you.

Opening paragraph:

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. Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce’s study, “Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites,” published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology in 1975. Or maybe you’ve seen my photograph in chapter sixteen of the now sadly outdated Genetics and Heredity. That’s me on page 578, standing naked beside a height chart with a black box covering my eyes.

Fabulous quotes:

Lefty, too, was conflicted. Though he had been tortured by thoughts of Desdemona, he was glad for the darkness of the lifeboat, glad, in particular, that he couldn’t see her face. For months Lefty had slept with whores who resembled Desdemona, but now he found it easier to pretend that she was a stranger.

I waited until they left before I undressed. First I took off my knee socks. I reached under my athletic tunic and pulled down my shorts. After tying a bath towel around my waist, I unbuttoned the shoulder straps of my tunic and pulled it over my head. This left me with the towel and my jersey on. Now came the tricky part. The brassiere I had was size 30 AA. It had a tiny rosette between the cups and a label that read “Young Miss by Olga.” (Tessie had urged me to get an old-fashioned bra, but I wanted something that looked like what my friends had, and preferably padded.) I now fastened this item around my waist, clasps in front, and then rotated it into position. At this point, one sleeve at a time, I pulled my arms inside my jersey so that it sat on my shoulders like a cloak. Working inside it, I slid the bra up my torso until I could slip my arms through the armholes. When that was accomplished, I put my kilt on under my towel, removed my jersey, put on my blouse, and tossed the towel away. I wasn’t naked for a second.

He was flat on his back, eyes closed. And he was smiling to himself.
Smiling? Smiling how? In ridicule? No. In shock? Wrong again. How then? In contentment. Jerome had the smile of a boy who, on a summer night, had gone all the way. He had the smile of a guy who couldn’t wait to tell his friends.
Reader, believe this if you can: he hadn’t noticed a thing.

Also Recommended: Atonement by Ian McEwan, The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber; Vernon God Little.

Also by this author: The Virgin Suicides.

Author’s website: jeffreyeugenides.com

Awards: Pulitzer Prize: winner, 2003

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *