Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
544 pgs, Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux 2002
Whereas I, even now, persist in believing that these black marks on white paper bear the greatest significance, that if I keep writing I might be able to catch the rainbow of consciousness in a jar.
Oh family sagas, you are my cup of tea. On the occasion you utilize a postmodern voice that tends toward the embattled label of hysterical realism you become my crack. So effective is your snare that as the cover of Middlesex closed for the final time a now familiar sentence slipped from my mouth “that was the best book I’ve read in a long time.” Just how high in Trevor’s Pantheon of Greats—on your left ladies and gentleman you’ll see our Authors gallery if you look carefully you can just make out Novels to the right—remains to be seen.
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.
Fascinating as that opening is Cal’s story is but a portion of this bildungsroman/epic. Over five hundred and some odd pages Cal traces his family’s adventures over continents and three generations. What family secrets and courtings could have led to the peculiar genetic hand he’s been dealt?
I have a feeling another author tasked with this story of secret hermaphroditism and incest would have crafted a character study and made the external mundane—by repressing the individuality and inner turmoil of others and more than likely muting nature— to emphasize the protagonist’s upheaval of the self. Instead, Eugenides somehow possesses enough authorial magic to both give just service to Cal as well as guide all of the Stephanides through a mesmerizing plot. It’s a treat to watch how the family handles every sort of environment, from villages in the shadow of Mount Olympus or riot-ridden Detroit, to Californian brothel or Detroit mosques, or finally to Calliope’s last summer as a girl and Cal’s romantic woes in Berlin.
Now, glowing praise aside, I must point out Eugenides’ one flaw: he has only published three novels. Lucky for me, a latecomer, his first story collection Fresh Complaints, is set to be released later this year. You can bet I’ve already pre-ordered it and impatiently await its arrival. In the mean time I’ll try not to use it as my latest yard-stick for determining future ratings.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Obscure Objects
Up next: The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket