Saturday, April 17, 2010

Review: Middlesex

"The mind self-edits. The mind airbrushes. It's a different thing to be
inside a body than outside. From outside, you can look, inspect, compare. From
inside there is no comparison."

Is it any indication of how I felt about the book, when I finished the last page and told my husband, FINALLY! Phew, Middlesex took me a good month to read. I didn't LOVE it, and I did not HATE it, but I did dislike it. The beginning was slow, the middle (around the time Cal hit junior high) it picked up. It finished nicely, I didn't feel as though it was rushed or non-believable. It was just a decent end to a mediocre book.
"But in the end it wasn't up to me. The bigs things never are. Birth, I
mean, and death. And love. And what love bequeaths to us before we're born."

Back Cover: Middlesex tells 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 1967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Ponite, 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.

Middlesex is about Cal Stephanides who is a hermaphrodite. The book covers his entire live span and tells the story of how he went from a she to a he. It starts the story waaay back in Turkey with his relatives and the choices his older relatives made that led to his genetic mutation.

I will say this book grossed me out. Cal's grandparents were brother and sister. Ew. Just ew. There is no way I can fathom marrying my brother, let alone EVER having ANY romantic ideas about him. It would make me vomit. Ugh Ugh ugh. Also, his PARENTS were cousins. Not first cousins, but still cousins. And with the fact that his grandparents were SIBLINGS. EW EW EW. I think at that point, all I could think was, out of MILLIONS of people in Detroit you pick a relative??? I come from a much smaller town and was able to NOT MARRY MY BROTHER. EW EW EW.

I also felt bad for Cal at certain parts, the doctor his parents take him too was so clinical and wanted to exploit him. Also, did not share all the details with Cal or his parents. I would be livid. Though, I do understand that Cal was a teenager, but if you are determining whether to turn someone male or female by a surgery you should GIVE THEM ALL THE FACTS. I felt sick for Cal as he traveled across the U.S. and was once again exploited in San Francisco. I don't know emotionally you could handle all that as a teenager and turn into a semi-functioning adult!

"I live my own life and nurse my own wounds. It's not the best way to
live. But it's the way I am. "

Eugenides does develop wonderful characters. I have to say that he described and built up all of the main characters. I really liked the people in the book and felt that most of the parts I liked the best were stories of the people of the book. Minus the inter-family marrying and all!

Another thing I did enjoy was the look into early to mid 1900s Detroit. Especially the first-hand account via Cal about the race riots. From a native Michigander and history nut, that was pretty neat.

Discussion Questions:
1. Describing his own conception, Cal writes: "The timing of the thing had to be just so in order for me to become the person I am. Delay the act by an hour and you change the gene selection" (p. 11). Is Cal's condition a result of chance or of fate? Which of these forces governs the world as Cal sees it?

2. Middlesex begins just before Cal's birth in 1960, then moves backward in time to 1922. Cal is born at the beginning of Part 3, about halfway through the novel. Why did the author choose to structure the story in this way? How does this movement backward and forward in time reflect the larger themes of the work?

3. When Tessie and Milton decide to try to influence the sex of their baby, Desdemona disapproves. "God decides what baby is," she says. "Not you" (p. 13). What happens when characters in the novel challenge fate?

4. . How does Cal's experience reflect on the "nature vs. nurture" debate about gender identity?

As always, these insightful questions have been taken from

Here are some others thoughts on Middlesex Curt Gardner , Mad Professah , and The Biblio Blogazine .

What did you think? Any questions you would want to ask in discussing Middlesex?


Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

As you know, I did not enjoy this book. when I finished, I wanted to do a little happy dance because i was SO ready for something new. It was just too long in my opinion.

I had a really hard time w/ the inter-family marrying. It was just so gross. And I didn't enjoy the sexual exploration parts all that much either... But I did feel bad for Cal. I can not imagine having that happen to someone. But they brought it on themselves by all the inter-family marriages. It's just too bad that Cal had to suffer as a result of dumb decisions made by his family!!

Anais said...

Woah, sounds like an interesting book to say the least... I had heard of the book but never exactly what it was about? I'm sort of curious about it even though the brother/sister thing definitely grossed me out too :S

An interesting thing though is that the family is greek (and has greek names) and I just automatically thought of greek mythology where there are always strange and slightly incestuous relationships...

Anonymous said...

I've always thought I wanted to read this someday, but siblings marrying and having a family? No thank you!