Saturday, January 29, 2011

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Middlesex is one of the most powerful books I've read recently. It is the story of a Greek family during and after their immigration to America. It is told by Cal (formerly Callie), a male born with enough female characteristics (and an incompetent, family friend for a doctor) to pass for a girl. Only when he reaches puberty does he start to discover the way that he’s different.

The genetic defect in Cal is due to the emergence of a recessive gene and the emergence comes from inbreeding in his family. His parents were first cousins and his grandparents on his father’s side were brother and sister.

What I liked the most about this book is the way it took people in situations we try not to think about and presented their personalities so thoroughly that I sympathized and even identify with them. This is true in both the case of Cal’s gender identity and in the incestuous marriage between Lefty and Desdemona. These people also have other flaws, as do the rest of the book’s characters, but these flaws are the type an average reader can identify with. By doing this Eugenides forces us to rethink our prejudices concerning the less common shortcomings.

My only complaint is in the point of view choice. Often the story is told from Cal’s point of view while detailing the thoughts of other characters, thoughts he couldn’t have known. A few times he says he’s making up those thoughts, but that comes off more like an excuse than a legitimate rationalization.

Overall, the book is wonderfully written, with the perfect amount of detail and action. I was always in the heads of the people I was reading about, understanding what they were feeling and why they made their decisions. But at the same time the story is filled with carefully crafted allusions to Greek mythology and modern culture. There is a tremendous amount of analysis of Middlesex on the web. It’s fun to go through some of that when reflecting on the novel.

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