Being Born Twice Sometimes Works Better: Jeffrey Eugenides’s MIDDLESEX

March 4 2014

Some books make me angry when I like them.

Oprah’s picks. Bestsellers. That one book your really annoying friend doesn’t ever shut up about. You know what I mean.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides totally fits this bill. I had simply heard too much praise and seen it on too many acquaintances’ bookshelves, and my inner anti-establishment grumpy teenager reared her ugly head and turned up her pompous nose. This book, she said, simply cannot be worth the hype.

She was so wrong.

With the scope of an epic, a graceful blend of magical realism and comedy, and a voice so strong and self-assured you’d swear it was a memoir, Middlesex is the engrossing story of Calliope Stephanides, an intersex man born with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. This condition caused Calliope (“Cal” as a man, “Callie” as a girl) to be born with female characteristics, and not realize his true gender identity until his teens. Eugenides, with effortless beauty, traces Cal’s transformation—not really from girl to man so much as from the sexually confused, socially unsure daughter of second-generation Greek immigrants to a self-aware and mostly confident diplomat living abroad.

But this novel shows so many more transformations than Calliope’s: siblings to lovers, immigrant to citizen, lower class to middle class, Greek tragedy to American Dream. It is a paean to both the dying city of Detroit and the small village of Bithynios, where Cal’s family story originates. It is a commentary on sexuality, on urbanization, on race relations, on family. It is all-encompassing without being overwhelming. It is, truly, a stunning work of art.

What amazed me most was the narrative voice Eugenides gave Cal. Neither overtly male nor female, neither feminine nor masculine, Cal is the ultimate Every(wo)man. But beyond just adequately navigating that tricky slope of gender in voice, Eugenides accomplishes something more here: He makes Cal, this man stuck in a state of gendered limbo that so few can relate to, infinitely empathetic. His thoughts, his reactions, his doubts and questions and lusts and fears, create a universal language we all understand. Eugenides lets us love Cal—and all the characters—as much as he loves him, and loved writing him. And why shouldn’t we? Like his Greek mythological namesake, Calliope spews pitch-perfect poetry.

Middlesex
Jeffrey Eugenides

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

Renew Your Sense of Purpose with This No-Nonsense Advice Book

By Elizabeth Breeden | January 15, 2021

MLK Day Reads: Inspiring Fictional Characters Who Changed Their Worlds

By Sabrina Sánchez | January 14, 2021

Glennon Doyle Recommends: 6 Inspiring Reads for the New Year

By Off the Shelf Staff | January 13, 2021

January eBook Deals: 10 Fantastic Books to Add to Your Digital Library

By Off the Shelf Staff | January 12, 2021

10 Compelling Reads New in Paperback This January

By Alice Martin | January 11, 2021

6 Horror Reads That Will Haunt You Even More Than the Year 2020

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | January 8, 2021

Close

You must be logged in to add books to your shelf.

Please log in or sign up now.