Jeffrey Eugenides: Middlesex

This was high up on the list of Books I Really Should Have Gotten Around To Reading By Now. (The next highest book on the list is probably Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections.) All I really knew was that it was about a hermaphrodite, which indeed it is, but there’s actually a bit less of that than I expected. First of all, the novel starts out with the narrator’s grandparents, and doesn’t even get to the narrator’s own life until maybe 40% of the way through the book – and then only really follows that life until the age of 15 or so. So we get a lot of entertaining background (though the background is interesting and continues to shed light on the narrator’s own experiences throughout the book), and then we get the narrator’s life up until the point that she 1) discovers that she’s not totally a she and 2) decides he’s a he, but there’s disappointingly little about his life after he decided how he was going to live it.

I still enjoyed it; I like these multi-generational family epics, and the science and sociology of Calliope’s condition was interesting and well written.  The artistry that is put into every sentence was especially obvious since I came to this book straight from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn books, which were written extremely straightforwardly (not that I had a problem with that).  One thing that I particularly appreciated although I bet many other readers found it a little annoying was Eugenides’ willingness to make explicit the themes that kept cropping up.  Oh hey, yeah, I guess the burning of Detroit does recall the burning of Smyrna 300 pages ago, now that you mention it, thanks for reminding me.  I’m sure the actual literature readers roll their eyes at the author’s assumption that the reader needs these correspondences spelled out, but it worked well for me.

Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize, and I must admit that having picked it up with Pulitzer-size expectations I felt that it didn’t totally live up to them.  But it was still an excellent book, and I’m happy to have read it for reasons other than just being able to cross it off the list.

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