Book Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I’ve been wanting to read Middlesex (2002) by Jeffrey Eugenides since its release six years ago.  The title attracted me because I then lived in Middlesex County, but this book is not set in Massachusetts but in Michigan.  And the Middlesex of the title refers to the address of the narrator/protagonist Calliope “Cal” Stephanides’ childhood home and more wistfully to the fact that Cal is an intersexed person.  Cal was raised as a girl due to the outward appearance of femininity because of 5-alpha reductase deficiency only to discover his real biological sex as a teenager.

As a memoir-style, Eugenides’ narrative goes back further than “I was born” and traces the life of Cal’s genes back three generations.  Using a unique “first-person omniscient” narrative voice, Cal tells of her grandparents’ incestuos relationship, escape war-torn Turkey, and settlement in Prohibition-Era Detroit.  Next, there’s the story of Cal’s parents, first cousins, and their unlikely romance.  Finally  there’s Calliope’s own story.  The result is an epic, multigenerational tale of an eccentric and oddly endearing Greek-American family whose fates closesly mirror the city of Detroit.  In this novel are recounted the Burning of Smyrna and the Detroit Riots of 1968, the birth of the Nation of Islam and the pursuit of the American dream.

I enjoyed this novel immensely, the narrative voice very engaging and amusing, especially as read by Kristoffer Tabori.

Author Eugenides, Jeffrey.
Title Middlesex [sound recording] / Jeffrey Eugenides.
Publication Info. New York, NY : Audio Renaissance, p2002.
Edition Unabridged.
Description 17 sound discs (ca. 21 hrs.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

  1. Having just read the book on holiday I was able to give it full attention and the tedious family details were soap opera style filler. Eugenides even quotes the Chekhov gun on the wall analogy twice then pointedly fails to follow it himself. Worse than all of this though, is the fact that all of the interesting bits are ripped from actual people. In other words, a bunch of newspaper and magazine stories cobbled together as if they were all part of the same family or community. The Zizmo character is just Wallace Ford rewritten with no discernable purpose other than to fill pages; or distort history through pointless name changes. In short, this is a novel that is waaaaaaay overrated.


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