This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 2003, and was an Oprah’s Book Club selection this year. I was never quite interested in reading it, but it was my book club’s next choice, so I dived right in. I’m actually surprised they chose it since, in paperback, it’s over 500 pages (we generally have a 350 page limit). One of the reasons for being involved in a book club is to try and read books you might not otherwise go near, I made a semi-commitment to the book and checked it out of the public library.
Once I began reading Middlesex, I was hooked. The author, Jeffrey Eugenides, uses names and concepts from Greek mythology to help tell a wide-ranging tale of incest, betrayal, deceit, genetics, and the American Dream. So of course the book needs to be so long.
The story centers on Calliope Stephanides, the narrator of this story. Her paternal grandparents came to America in 1922, following the destruction of Smyrna. They were members of the large Greek minority living in Turkey at the time. In addition to being husband and wife, Lefty and Desdemona were third cousins, as well as siblings. Unbeknownst to them, they each carried a recessive mutated gene that eventually resulted in Calliope being born, outwardly a girl, but with male internal organs and chromosonal structure.
Calliope (later Cal) recounts growing up and being “different”, but not understanding why. The family lives in Detroit, and we witness the decline of that city as Calliope grows to adolescence. The story involves close relatives of the Stephanides family, as well as events on a much larger scale-Prohibition, the Depression, World War II.
This is a truly original story, and well worth the effort. I recommend this book whole-heartedly!
Published in hardcover-Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2002
Softcover edition-Picador 2007