Middlesex is the winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
A dazzling triumph from the bestselling author of The Virgin Suicides--the astonishing tale of a gene that passes down through three generations of a Greek-American family and flowers in the body of a teenage girl.
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver's license...records my first name simply as Cal."
So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize–winning novel follows the ripple effects of a forbidden love on three generations of a Greek-American family. Cal Stephanides—born intersexual and raised as a girl named Calliope—narrates his own life story along with the experiences of his parents and immigrant grandparents. Addressing the reader directly throughout the novel, Cal is in turn sarcastic, honest, and unexpectedly funny, especially when it comes to the calculations and frustrations of dating while intersex. The way Cal bluntly separates his two selves—one assigned and one chosen—made us reexamine our notions about gender identity and sexuality.
As the Age of the Genome begins to dawn, we will, perhaps, expect our fictional protagonists to know as much about the chemical details of their ancestry as Victorian heroes knew about their estates. If so, Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides) is ahead of the game. His beautifully written novel begins: "Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce's study, 'Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites.' "The "me" of that sentence, "Cal" Stephanides, narrates his story of sexual shifts with exemplary tact, beginning with his immigrant grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty. On board the ship taking them from war-torn Turkey to America, they married but they were brother and sister. Eugenides spends the book's first half recreating, with a fine-grained density, the Detroit of the 1920s and '30s where the immigrants settled: Ford car factories and the tiny, incipient sect of Black Muslims. Then comes Cal's story, which is necessarily interwoven with his parents' upward social trajectory. Milton, his father, takes an insurance windfall and parlays it into a fast-food hotdog empire. Meanwhile, Tessie, his wife, gives birth to a son and then a daughter or at least, what seems to be a female baby. Genetics meets medical incompetence meets history, and Callie is left to think of her "crocus" as simply unusually long until she reaches the age of 14.Eugenides, like Rick Moody, has an extraordinary sensitivity to the mores of our leafier suburbs, and Cal's gender confusion is blended with the story of her first love, Milton's growing political resentments and the general shedding of ethnic habits. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about this book is Eugenides's ability to feel his way into the girl, Callie, and the man, Cal. It's difficult to imagine any serious male writer of earlier eras so effortlessly transcending the stereotypes of gender. This is one determinedly literary novel that should also appeal to a large, general audience.
Deserving of the Pulitzer
Written by the author of The Virgin Suices, this book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003. As with most contemporary and literary fiction, the time frame jumps around, the point of views shifts, and the subject matter is deep. However, in this case, I found many of these literary devices seemless and intimately tied to the narrative and meaning of the story.
Calliope is the narrator of the story, and she begins by telling us that she was “born twice”—first as a baby girl, and then as a teenage boy. As the story unfolds, we learn the reason for this: she was a hermaphrodite. Much of the first half of the novel is spent in the past, narrating gone lives of her Greek grandparents, noting their lives but also the fluke of genetics that would lead to her/his biological anomaly—the marriage of this brother and sister as they fled Greece and the Turkish attack on Smyrna. Through their lives we read of their time in Detroit during Prohibition, the lives of their children, and their lives in Detroit during the Race Riots—eventually leading to the birth of Callie. Of course, much of this has nothing to do with Calliopse’s condition, it is an interesting and historical look into those cultures and the lives of the fictional people within them.
In between, we are treated to brief snippets of the male Callie’s life, just moments here and there of the difficulties of navigating life as a male after growing up as a female. But the latter part of the book turns to Callie’s life as a child and then an adolescent. Much of her life is the stuff of growing up: learning to relate with friends, parents, and others; the awkwardness and exploration of puberty and teenage years. Of course, Calliope’s coming-of-age story is different because of her condition, unknown to her and her parents until she reached the age of 15 and it became clear something was wrong. The rest of the story pours forth: doctors, family strife, fear, denial and acceptance, and an exploration of what it means to be a male after having been raised a female. I won’t spoil the book by going further.
The books covers eight decades of a family line, delves into gender confusion, sexual desires, and the search for one’s place in the world. While gender fluidity and transgender are hot topics of discussion today, Eugenides avoids any social or political commentary, and merely tells the story of a genetic anomaly (perhaps some might read the few references to “a new humanity” as commentary). Instead, the story invites us to think about a imperfect world, which includes an imperfect biology. It asks us to think about what it means to be “different,” especially when different is a rarity.
It is an imaginative book, pulling from Greek history, mythology, genetic science, and American history. The style is quite readable and avoids the often confusing experimention of much contemporary literary novels. Stunning, perhaps, is the ability of Eugenides to write as a first-person female and seeming to do it with ease (though I should perhaps leave that to female readers). Parts of it may make some readers feel prurient, and some might think the graphic descriptions are unnecessary. One could argue those sections are necessary because of the subject of the book, and that Eugenides keeps to fairly clinical descriptions, but it might make some readers uncomfortable.
It is easy to see why this book won the Pulitzer Prize. If you are ready for the scope, length, and subject matter of the book, you will probably enjoy it.
Hard to finish...
The author is too descriptive...o we really need your description of the fog rolling in, in San Francisco? I mean get to the point, it's long overdue at this point anyway. Why did we have to have back & forth with "the man" as he is now, pointless. Just tell Calliopa's story and leave it with her watching the house. Cut out all the jumping back & forth between current and then, this will lose about 150 pages and you've got a much better novel. Loved the family history and stories. As a Detroiter, I loved those descriptions as well. Not a bad read, but could have been better.
A great book.