Thursday, April 24, 2014

Middlesex



So much reading, so little time. I’m going on vacation tomorrow, and I am so excited. Not just because I’ll have some time off, but because – as part of the vacation – I will have a few days when I can just read. I’m hoping that I can get caught up on my schedule over vacation, because things are not going to get easier once I get back to real life.

At least I’m barreling full speed ahead with my blog posts. Three in two weeks sure isn’t shabby, and with this post I finally get to break away from the negativity that plagued my last two submissions to the Project 84 oeuvre.

With that in mind, book 17 of Project 84 is:


Middlesex

Middlesex
by Jeffrey Eugenides

Here’s something you haven’t heard me say in a while:

I loved this book.

Middlesex is another (the 3rd, for those keeping track) of those books that has sat on my bookshelf for years and I have “always meant to read”. This time I can at least trace the source. My mother gave it to me in college, swearing that I would love it. It sat gathering dust for years until I finally picked it up.

And a phrase I’ve said more and more in my adult life comes to mind: my mother was right.

Middlesex is one of the longer books I have read and plan to read in Project 84, clocking in around 530 pages, and the plot synopsis is a little tough. But here goes.  Middlesex is told through the eyes of Cal, a young Greek-American man living in Germany. We learn quickly that Cal was born Calliope, but had intersex characteristics that were not identified until his teens.

But the story starts long before that. Our narrator, Cal, tells the story of his grandparents – Lefty and Desdemona – who escaped from Greece during the Great Fire of Smyrna and came to America. They were married at sea, and hid a secret: Lefty and Desdemona were brother and sister. The novel goes on to tell the story of their lives in America with a cousin, Lina.

Cal continues on to the next generation – and the marriage of his parents, Milton (Lefty and Desdemona’s son) and Tessie (Lina’s daughter). It is the intermarrying that, ultimately, led to a recessive condition manifesting itself in Cal, the offspring of cousins Milton and Tessie. The book becomes the story of Cal’s self-discovery, and his struggles with both sexuality and identity.

This book was a masterpiece, and I don’t know why I was surprised. Everyone I’ve spoken to who read Middlesex has loved it. It reads almost like an epic, and there’s a traditional beauty in that which I responded to. I went through to find quotes that I could use from this book, but, honestly, just read it. The beauty of the book is not in specific passages, but in the narrative as a whole. It was almost like an impressionist painting, where the details, the characters, the imagery, and the emotion all come together to create something amazing.

The detail in this book was particularly captivating. As I mentioned, it was a 530 page book, which is on the longer end of the books I’ve been attacking for Project 84, but I was barely affected by the length. I read Infinite Jest last year, and it felt interminable. I flew through Middlesex, and I think It has a lot to do with how fascinated I was by the characters and the story.

Like I said before, the book is almost comparable to an “epic”, which is fitting with the Greek characters. The narrative chronicles 3 generations of a family, and takes place over 90 years, so the number of characters you’re expected to follow is more than in a typical book. And yet Eugenides somehow manages to create a world where you become emotionally invested in just about everyone you meet, and the “epic” turns into a character-based narrative, which created that “lost in a book” feeling.

Ultimately, the main theme of the book is identity. It’s about finding your place in the world, deciding who you are, and also how biology, genetics, and upbringing play in to who you become as an adult. Cal is a flawed character – but a beautifully flawed character, and through the 90 years of his story we are able to discover exactly why he has become that way, without removing his personal responsibility for his life.

I know so many people read this book when it first came out in 2002, but if you’re one of the people (like me) who missed it, I can’t recommend it enough. It was an easy read, and yet literary and deep. It made me think, but also entertained me, and it was the type of book that you can “get lost in”, which, for me, is all I really need in a novel.

***
See, I do remember how to like books. It’s not all negative! The next one is actually another positive, somewhat glowing review, so get off my case. (For the record…no one has been on my case ;) ). I’m 3 away from the 20 review mark, and I’m feeling great about how much reading I have gotten done, and am optimistic about catching up over vacation.

Thanks for reading!!

Next Review: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerny (Estimated Posting Date: Tuesday, April 29th)




**All quotes and annotations refer to this version of Middlesex, published by Picador in 2007**

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