Ben's Reviews > Middlesex

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
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's review
Dec 30, 11

Read in December, 2011

** spoiler alert ** DISCLAIMER: This review, while being mainly critical, is failing to represent its writer's appreciation for the book. I can more easily express what I DISLIKED, rather than ENJOYED.

I'm afraid that this was one of those times when reviews should be read after finishing a book, lest the book itself become adulterated with the insinuations of critics.

However, even before reading these reviews I felt something amiss. The reviews only crystallized my already forming suspicions.

At about halfway through, Middlesex splits in two.

Think of it like this. There are two rather short plot-lines in this book, largely independent from one another. The Greek Immigration/Assimilation story and the Hermaphroditic/Bildungsroman story. These are bound together by sharing the same cast of characters, and liminally, liminally--the themes.

However, these overarching themes remain continuous only for so long.

Eventually a sort of mitosis overcomes the book.

Around the portion where the story passes from Lefty/Desdemona to Milton/Tessie, some of the book becomes (to my perception) stilted. Unlike Rushdie, which I originally compared the authorial voice and conceptualization to, Eugenides is not equipped fully with the resources to bind two separate, chronologically disparate themes into one comprehensive story. The first portion is preserved by Cal's pervasive voice, detailing the path of certain, pertinent chromosomes that would determine his sex and later life. These are paced intermittently in tandem with brief accounts of Cal's later 42-ish life. In the latter portion the first is preserved by a continued cast of characters and a lot of reference to Greek ancestry.

Then it stops. After the Milton/Tessie portion, the Greek heritage/immigration story is mentioned irregularly, virtually ceasing to affect the story at all. Like a sort of pseudo-mitosis, both moieties have pulled apart, all of the infrastructural components of the book consanguineous--yes--but colinear--not necessariliy. The thematic cytoplasm splices, leaving two stories bound only by the brief referencing to the previous/latter story-line.

It annoyed me as the Immigration/Assimilation abruptly fell from the story at the Milton/Tessie stage, but later, as I began to unwisely review reviews--fomented dissolution.

I can bear Eugenides' claim that the Greek heritage became less and less a factor as the generations passed, but I cannot forgive the stilted, simulated and unnecessary pieces that annoyingly attempt to bind the bifurcations together. These parts thin the book and make me sad.

The end too, left a lack of consummation, what with all this discontinuity.


Eugenides is a good writer, having obviously poured enormous research into the writing of this book. He has a great hand for mood and idiosyncratic interspersing of almost-outrageous twists and tweaks. Zizmo returning as Fard Muhammed was a flooring of the slate, a real humdinger. The family is a nucleic structure, obviously, and rewards the reader by the characters becoming unforgettable. They almost remind me of the center of the Quebecois film C.R.A.Z.Y.


3/5 stars.


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