Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

05 Jul

Middlesexrating: 4 of 5 stars
After reading this, I can understand why Middlesex won awards, although there were times when I could see but not touch the award winning book.

From the description on Amazon:

“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.”

So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.

This is a seriously disturbing book at times, although nothing about it is gratuitously shocking, everything that happens has a reason within the story. I didn’t find this a positive or a negative, it simply was.

I’m amazed at how real Cal/Calliope was to me. I was very interested in her childhood– even outside the issues related to hermaphrodism, there was a lot of going on within her extended family, and the vivid descriptions made many of these scenes come to life.

Calliope’s adolescence was the one part Middlesex where I felt a personal connection to the book.  So many of us can identify with being the one that doesn’t quite fit in.v Even her relationship to her body, and it not being what she wants it to be, has links into “normal” female pubescence.

I was fascinated with watching her first crush, her first sexual experience.  They were wonderfully (and painfully) drawn, really pulling me in.

The book seemed to be following an interesting but predictable path for most of the course of Calliope’s childhood and early adolescence.  We’re given enough clues to see where the story is going. The last section (everything after her visit to the doctor) took me almost completely by surprise, in all storylines– Cal’s, as well as what else happens with his family.

I had more trouble really appreciating the stories of the older generations.  I found them interesting but not compelling.

Part of it was keeping track of the people and places.

Also,  I have trouble with “I can’t ever love anyone but you” stories even in romance novels (see my review of Twilight), but I really didn’t get it here, although I see why it was needed for plot purposes.  If I couldn’t understand that pull in both previous generations of characters, their story was never going to seem real to me.

I listened to the audio version of this book. I think this got in my way at the beginning, as I was trying to sort out generations of characters. Once I got past that, I think I got more out of the writing and the descriptions this way. I do think that the length (21 hours!) was more of an issue for me in audio format than it would have been on paper, since I’m a fast reader.

I never did figure out why his brother was referred to as “Chapter 11”. An Internet search after finishing the book cleared that up.  Other questions came and went during the story, things I didn’t quite understand, but nothing else felt it needed answering when I was done.

In the end, I found this an interesting and thought provoking read. I would be interested in rereading it sometime, and see if I get more from it the second time through. I think this is unlikely to happen unless it gets selected for one of my book clubs. I will consider nominating it.

I read this book then went on vacation for a week. I find that a day or two away from a book can help my thoughts to jell, but a week of not really thinking about it was unhelpful. It would have been hard to review even in ideal circumstances. In many ways, this review was just disjointed thoughts about the book. Sorry if that doesn’t work for you!


Posted by on July 5, 2009 in books, reviews


Tags: , , , ,

9 responses to “Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

  1. nanscorner

    July 5, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I read this book quite awhile ago and I remember loving it. I enjoyed reading your review.

  2. Betty and Boo's Mommy

    July 5, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Great review! (It definitely works for me. 🙂 I’ve had this on my bookself for awhile, and am hoping to get to it very soon. Thanks for the review!

  3. Yondalla

    July 5, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    I also listened to it quite a while ago. I liked the parallels of tranformation. Cal transformation mirrors the transformation of his family. I thought it was as much about the immigrant experience, about becoming American, as it was about Cal’s own story.

  4. Laura at Im Booking It

    July 5, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Nanscorner: Thanks!

    Betty and Boo’s mommy: Thanks! I hope you get to it soon, it was a worthwhile read.

    Yondalla: I think that’s one of the themes that was just beyond my reach this time through. If I read it again, I’ll look for it, because that feels right to me.

  5. thekoolaidmom

    July 5, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    I read this book last year and found it quite entrancing. I loved the way Euginedes wrote it, the whole silkworm thing and I loved the back stories of the older generations. One of the most memorable scenes for me was when Cal’s father was flying in the car.

    I also listened to the audio book, but I always read along with a hard copy of it. I’m an audio/visual learner, and I find this works best for me 🙂

  6. sdechantal

    July 5, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    I have thought about reading this book but so far have not. I am just not sure if it would hold my interest… and I have read some award winning books where you just have to sit back and say, “Why?’

    Good review.

    • Laura at Im Booking It

      July 6, 2009 at 9:16 am

      I admit, I’m reluctant to take on award willing books. I’ve had some bad experiences in the past. This one is definitely READABLE, and I’d recommend it.


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