Taylor's Reviews > Middlesex

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
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's review
May 08, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, favorites, recommended, in-a-land-far-away, in-a-time-long-ago, golden-years, its-a-family-affair, own, awards-and-accolades, emotional-gut-punch, pop-pop-popular, lgbtqa
Recommended for: everyone with an open mind, and even some of those with closed ones.
Read in May, 2007

Mr. Eugenides can do everything, or at least I am convinced of such after reading Middlesex.

I passed on this book for a long time. I kept picking it up in bookstores and putting it down. I've seen quotes from it everywhere, all of which were beautiful, and kept hearing wonderful things about it from friends. To be perfectly honest, what kept me from picking it up in the subject: a hermaphrodite. I think of myself as someone with an open mind, but the thing is that I just wasn't sure if I'd be able to relate to much in this story. I made a very foolish assumption, and I'm quite embarassed about it.

Middlesex is a slow burner (my new favorite term). It begins with the story of Cal/Calliope's grandparents, which seems unnecessary in the beginning, but which makes more sense with each passing page. The story then passes on to the parents, then Cal.

A couple pages in, Eugenides describes a rather gruesome scene, and this was my signal that this is a no-holds-barred kind of author. He goes there. (This isn't to say that the book is filled with gruesome moments, just that he's not afraid to use them when he must.)

To address the smoking gun, so to speak, yes, the main character is a Hermaphrodite. Though the reader knows it throughout the book, the main character doesn't know until they're older. It seems incredulous, but Eugenides makes it work, and makes this believable. He was smart to do things this way, because I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Calliope to discover the truth. And, most likely, he keeps a lot more not-so-open minded readers this way.

There's a very frank beauty about this book - he doesn't gloss over anything, but despite the many struggles of the three generations, he doesn't feel it necessary to make his reality very bleak, either. Even when the book is at its darkest, most depressing, you're filled with sadness, but also with hope.

The other great thing about Middlesex, aside from its incredible cast of characters is how well it captures society in history - first in Detroit in the '20s (a more bleak picture than '20s of The Great Gatsby), then the '60s. The '20s are focused on the invention of the automobile - the people putting them together as opposed to the people driving them, and the impact that being part of an assembly line and big business had on people, and of course, prohibition. With the '60s, Eugenides tackles race so marvelously - the chapter about the Detroit riots is probably the best in the book, for all of the anxiety and imagery that he evokes. This book is really just as much about middle class America and family ties as it is about sexuality.

Don't make the mistake that I made by continually passing on this book - read it!
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04/12/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-12)

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message 12: by Simone (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:12AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Simone A hermaphrodite is actually an incorrect term...no human is ever a hermaphrodite as that would imply fully functioning reproductive systems of both sexes...and even if a person has parts of both, they won't function...also as someone quite familiar with this topic and sensitivity around the issue, i'd say that it is not longer pc (which means no longer acceptable) to use the term hermaphrodite as it is deragotory...the word is intersex...

message 11: by Taylor (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:12AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Taylor ah, well, good to know. My use of it here is because hermaphrodite is the term used in the book...

message 10: by Jesi (new)

Jesi Okay, I like your review the best and I REALLY want to read the book but there's one thing... is there a relationship or romance that's kind of prominent in the book? Not just a bad experience that the author flies through...

Taylor Well, Cal's ability to hold a relationship kind of becomes a huge part of the story towards the end, so if I answer that, it kind of ruins it...

message 8: by Jesi (new)

Jesi Well you can PM me if you want. I'm not looking to see how it ends up, just see if it's like... a romance novel. How long does it take for it to become that...

Taylor No, it's not a romance novel, it's not even close. The romantic plotline is there, but it's probably the smallest one, for each of the generations. This is more about family and society.

Candi Thank you so much for the review. I am like you were....picked up this book a million times and was never sure exactly what it is about. I finally bought it in a second hand store and can't wait to read it. Cheers!!

Taylor Candi wrote: "Thank you so much for the review. I am like you were....picked up this book a million times and was never sure exactly what it is about. I finally bought it in a second hand store and can't wait to..."

Enjoy! I have been wanting to read it all over again.

message 4: by Cecily (last edited Oct 24, 2014 12:37AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily "Frank beauty" - I like that. And yes, it's extraordinary how many ways a people with apparently straightforward gender can relate to Cal: we're all outsiders in some ways, and we are all prone to reinvention, whether voluntary or not.

message 3: by Cecily (last edited Oct 24, 2014 05:34AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Simone wrote: "A hermaphrodite is actually an incorrect term..."

I was uncomfortable with that term, but as Taylor says, it's how Cal describes their(?)self, and presumably the term doctors would have used for Cal's very specific genetic condition, at the time the book is set.

message 2: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Very good review which has got me thinking I should get to this book.

Mona I love this book. I'm happy to see any reviews of it.

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