I know what you’re thinking: “Middlesex? What is this, 2001?” And to that I have to say, don’t sass me. I don’t get around to reading all the cool books when they come out. But this one remained in the back of my mind ever since I heard the first sentence: “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan.” H-wah? How does that…? I don’t even…
And such was the incentive for reading this book. I heard murmurings around the interwebs that it had something to do with hermaphrodites or sex-changes or something, but generally tried to stay away from spoilers. And boy am I kinda glad that I did. But only kind of.
Calliope Stephanides was born twice. But before she tells you the exact circumstance of her births, she gives the most detailed back story since the Bible. No, not the Bible. Since…my high school U.S. History textbook. (Ask me how tall President Polk was. Go ahead.). But there is a reason for all this detail. Jeffrey Eugenides wants this story to be educational, heart-wrenching, and endearing. Eugenides can’t accomplish this by simply throwing the reader into an opening scene similar to The Hangover, where everything is in chaos and lacks explanation. If Eugenides does that, then the story becomes more about entertainment. Eugenides doesn’t want to entertain. He wants to change minds.
So he tells the story of Calliope’s strange circumstance through her. How providence made it so that there was so much intermarriage (read: consensual incest) in Calliope’s family that certain recessive traits expressed themselves in a truly astonishing way. How fate would have it that the family doctor – so distracted by his own pain and traditional discretion – never discovered what had been there since Calliope’s birth. How destiny led Calliope to become Cal.
The story is truly amazing. And one that should be told in a world where there is still so much confusion and lack of respect for gender and sexual identity that doesn’t easily fit into one of the accepted two. But this book is looonnng and unnecessarily so. Yes, back-story is necessary so that we understand that it was divine providence that led to Calliope’s creation. But not so long that when I get to Cal’s second birth I’m not that interested anymore.
But hey, that could just be me reading this book 11 years after it came out.