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Middlesex: A Novel

A book by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Not Quite Believable

  • Aug 19, 2007
  • by
I sometimes begin a novel knowing pretty much what to expect from it. I'm either familiar enough with the author that its style doesn't surprise me or I've somehow already picked up enough information about its plot that the book holds few surprises other than its details. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, was definitely an exception to the rule because this was my first Eugenides novel (it's his second novel) and I had heard nothing at all about its plot.

Middlesex is a complicated novel of more than 500 pages, the multi-generational story of the Stephenides family who fled to America in the early 1920s for its very survival. At the core of this family saga is the fact that two members of the family, brother and sister, arrived in America as husband and wife, something that was to genetically impact the book's narrator and main character, Calliope Stephenides, who was born a hermaphrodite in 1960 Detroit. The novel's opening line sets the stage for the rest of the book:

"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974."

Everything about Calliope's birth appeared normal to the attending Greek doctor and his nurse and for the first 14 years of her/his life Calliope was raised as the girl whom she appeared to be. Things suddenly changed for her after she reached puberty and an emergency room doctor recognized that Calliope was, in fact, not the girl she thought she was.

Eugenides fills each generation of the Stephenides family with memorable characters from the moment that Desdemona and Lefty are forced to abandon everything and flee to America to the point at which Calliope Stephenides finally becomes Cal Stephenides. Their story typifies the experience of many immigrant families who came to the United States in the early years of the twentieth century. We watch as Lefty and Desdemona, guarding the secret of their marriage all the while, struggle to gain an economic foothold in Detroit that will allow them to carve out a good life for themselves and their children in their new world. It wasn't always easy for them but, by the time their grandchildren are born, Lefty and Desdemona can look with pride at the American family that they have created.

Middlesex is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, one that I expected both to be impressed by and to enjoy. And to a large degree that is what happened. But the novel did not quite work for me and I found it difficult at times to "believe" some of the characters or plot twists, especially the easy transition that Calliope made in becoming Cal. I found it hard to believe that a person who had been raised female for the entire 14 years of her life could so easily, and so suddenly, take on the persona of a teenage male. But, putting my minor quibbles aside, I do think that Middlesex is a book worth reading and I have a feeling that it has the makings of becoming a favorite book of lots of readers.

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More Middlesex (book) reviews
review by . June 30, 2010
I am convinced that Jeffrey Eugenides will be a name readers identify for generations to come.  I was impressed by his first novel, The Virgin Suicides, but Middlesex demonstrates an increased sense of the characters and truly keeps the reader in the grips of the plot.  The story of the main characters is compelling, while secondary characters who played parts in important historic events gave depth to a story that took place mostly in Detroit.     SPOILER ALERT- It is …
review by . June 25, 2010
This is an outstanding novel and a very worthy Pulitzer Prize winner. If you told me I'd enjoy a book about a hermaphrodite that finds their true sexual identity - not my kind of thing! But this is a very serious, well thought out, and comi-tragic novel about Cal. Calliope grew up thinking he was a girl until puberty came and oops! Actually not. But it's about much more than just that. The novel is epic in scope centering on the history of Calliope's family and exactly how it came …
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Well written story about a subject often ignored.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Very interesting book! Totally outside of what I normally read or expected.
Quick Tip by . June 17, 2010
Well crafted and on point.
Quick Tip by . June 17, 2010
one of my favorite books of all time. vast, sweeping -- i still am amazed by how intuitively eugenides writes as a female protagonist
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
this book is so good that when i first read it, i was convinced of my OWN hermaphroditism although i was born and identify as a female.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
This is one of the most original books I have ever read,it pulls you in with the very first line,and keeps you there until the end.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
awesome story
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Sam Sattler ()
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Oil company professional of almost 40 years experience who has worked in oil-producing countries around the world. I love books, baseball and bluegrass music and hope to dedicate myself to those hobbies … more
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About this book


Middlesex is a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides. It was published in 2002 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2003.

The narrator and protagonist, Calliope Stephanides (later called "Cal"), an intersexed person of Greek descent, has 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. The bulk of the novel is devoted to telling his coming-of-age story growing up in Detroit, Michigan in the late 20th century. This story, however, is intertwined with elements of a family saga, meditations on the era's zeitgeist and bits of contemporary history.

The novel begins with the narrator, aged 41, deciding to tell the story of his recessive gene that caused him to be born Calliope and later to become Cal. The narration periodically returns to the frame story of present-day Cal, who is bearded, male and interested in women, foreshadowing the personal revelations of Callie.

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ISBN-10: 0312427735 0374199698
ISBN-13: 978-0312427733 9780374199692
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux
Date Published: 2002
Format: Book : Fiction; English
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