Saturday, September 24, 2011
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Where I Got This Book: Own
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Goodreads Summary: "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.
My Thoughts: Epic is the perfect word to describe this book. Cal is an all-knowing narrator, going into great detail of his grandparents' and parents' lives, which he could not possibly know (having not been present), but you never doubt what he is telling you. You go on the journey with him, from the first appearance of the genetic mutation that cropped up due to his grandparents' incestuous relationship to its culmination in Cal's own body, causing him to be born a hermaphrodite.
Eugenides gives each generation of the Stephanides family their due. The reader gets to know the very interesting stories of Lefty and Desdemona's immigration from their burning village in Greece to America's Motor City. The author gives a grand history of Detroit, the beginnings of car factories and division of labor, and the riots of 1967. I can see why Middlesex is considered a great candidate for the title of The Great Amerian Novel. I had never read anything that went into such descriptions of Detroit and its pink nights. Usually, when Detroit crops up as a setting in a book, the author pulls a Forrest Gump, merely naming the city and then leaving the reader with "and that's all I have to say about that." I enjoyed getting to know a bit more about Michigan's largest city.
The book continues slowly through the Stephanides' marriage and the birth of Cal's parents, his father being the son of Lefty and Desdemona while his mother is the daughter of Lefty and Desdemona's cousin, which means (you guessed it) Cal's parents are second cousins. This was the second pairing that defined Cal's fate. Of course, no one knew about Cal's intersexuality until he reached puberty, so for quite some time Cal was raised as Calliope.
Once Cal reached age thirteen or so, I started to get impatient for Cal to finally make the big discovery that the book was leading to, and this is the reason for the half-star deduction. The story really started to drag for me around page 350 or so. Cal began to count down to the day when he would be going to the doctor's appointment to check things out and I would start getting excited, thinking We're finally going to get there in this next section, only to be roadblocked with Cal desribing each day of that last week in detail, taking up precious pages. But once everything was revealed, I was again hooked to the story and I couldn't read fast enough. I found Cal's psychological growth going from female to male fascinating, and I ended the book completely satisfied.