Middlesex was one of the books that kickstarted my accidental book blogging. It was also one of the books I was most excited to read this summer. If you haven’t heard of the book by now, the story centers on Cal, a Greek-American intersex man who was originally assigned female at birth. I went into the novel thinking it would focus heavily on the narrator’s intersex status and the gender identity struggle. But surprisingly, that particular part of the story may have been the least fleshed out. In fact, there isn’t much focus on Cal’s experiences until the end of the novel and Eugenides has openly stated that he didn’t do any extensive research on the gender topic.
So no it’s not a strikingly educational book on gender and sexuality. But it is, however, an amazing telling of three generations of an immigrant greek family. Eugenides has one hell of a way of storytelling. He manages to grow these characters from childhood to old age in a way that shows decades of growth but retains the core of who they are. The very traits that made them successful or endearing in early years become their downfalls or weaknesses later in life.
Cal begins the story with his grandparents in Greece. Their old greek suspicions and beliefs follow the family across the seas against a backdrop of historical events. Desdemona, Cal’s grandmother, places such whole-hearted faith in those beliefs and their consequences that at times the novel reads like magical realism. It’s no Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but there are moments reminiscent of that feeling.
Eugenides creates such striking images in his words. Lefty and his wife lying in the lifeboat, Cal chasing down a military tank down the streets of Detroit on an old bike, the mermaid tank in San Francisco…if you haven’t read the book, this doesn’t make too much sense to you. Fingers crossed that they’ll at least make you curious! These scenes are still vivid in my mind despite having read the book three months ago.
So while most of the book is not directly about Cal, you realize that at the end of the day, it really was. Cal is the sum of every man and woman that came before him. Who he ultimately becomes and what he faces is a consequence of the actions of his parents, his grandparents, his great-grandparents. It may be somewhat disappointing that the gender issue is a small part of the story, but for me it wasn’t quite a problem. Maybe it was part of the point-that who we are isn’t so much defined by sex and gender but by the people who came to bring us into life and the world we were brought into. It was one of those stories that comes full circle and closes in an immensely satisfying way.
If you’ve got the time, squeeze in this book. I, for one, am glad I did.