Monday, December 17, 2007


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is an interesting read, a very interesting one, but I think flawed read. It’s a novel about Calliope who’s of Greek ancestry and born a hermaphrodite. His or her gender is ambiguous and while she appears to the distracted physician at her birth to be a girl, s/he’s really in between. She’s raised a girl and through this story we learn of her discovering her true gender.
Parts were fascinating like what one gender specialist and one co-worker at a sex club impart about gender identification and how it’s not so clear cut and how in some societies people with gender identification issues or gender ambiguity are treated and respected.

Yet I found some of the structure poorly done. I felt the family history dragged and could have been more concise. The lengthy saga, even with the incestuous grandparents to spice things up, dragged. It was like so many other “coming to America from the old country” tales. Also there were many places where I wanted to know something, like how Callie or Cal was figuring out which public restroom to use when s/he first learned of her condition. Eugenides made me wait for that and other information, but not due to a plan in the plot. Rather it seemed that he just didn’t anticipate what I as a reader wanted to know. He did that a lot more than most novelists.

Another problem is the narrator, Cal at age 42 or so. He is privy to details that only an omniscient narrator would know. For example, he knows way too much about the father’s attempt to save Cal/lie when he wasn’t there and no living person would have re-counted the story to Cal. A lot of the details of his grandparents lives would not have made it to Callie in such detail. The author knows this and tries to explain it away, but I couldn’t buy it.

The years from Callie/Cal at age 15 to age 42 something are a blur. I bet they could have made a great story, better than some of the immigrant chapters. Yet they’re revealed in broad, unsatisfying strokes.

I didn’t buy the ending, when the father falls for a fake kidnapping plot. It all seemed contrived to ratchet up the excitement level, which wasn’t necessary. All the gender is-sues were fascinating in and of themselves. I didn’t need the ransom and kidnapping to keep me turning the pages.

Yes, this won the Pulitzer, but I’m not ashamed of being a demanding reader. I think Middlesex could be better.

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