Jeffrey Eugenides Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, Middlesex, is a rich family saga spanning three generations and takes the reader from Greece to Detroit on a whirlwind ride of rich, original language and spot on characterization. The story of Calliope Stephanides - an American born intersex individual with strong Greek heritage - is narrated by Cal...Calliope's adult male counterpart.
Middlesex is a tragic story which is comically portrayed using Greek mythology. Eugenides is a talented writer - his vivid descriptions are filled with the lush sensations of life. The characters who people this wonderful novel are fully developed; their flaws and imperfections revealed even through the names they are given: The Object (Calliope's teenage love interest), Chapter Eleven (Cal's brother), and a vast array of other characters based on mythical stories. Even the title of the book is steeped in symbolism.
Middlesex! Did anybody ever live in a house as strange? As sci-fi? As futuristic and outdated at the same time? A house that was more like communism, better in theory than reality? -From Middlesex, page 258-
The novel is essentially two stories: the history of a Greek family who carries a recessive gene; and the coming of age story of the main character - Calliope. At times it was easy to forget that this huge novel was written by a man. Eugenides wonderful insight into the thoughts of an awkward, self-conscious teenage girl is finely illustrated in this scene in the locker room after a field hockey game:
In front of me girls were entering and exiting the showers. The flashes of nakedness were like shouts going off. A year or so earlier these same girls had been porcelain figurines, gingerly dipping their toes into the disinfectant basin at the public pool. Now they were magnificent creatures. Moving through the humid air, I felt like a snorkeler. On I came, kicking my heavy, padded legs and gaping through the goalie mask at the fantastic underwater life all around me. Sea anemones sprouted from between my classmates' legs. They came in all colors, black, brown, electric yellow, vivid red. higher up, their breasts bobbed like jellyfish, softly pulsing, tipped with stinging pink. Everything was waving int he current, feeding on microscopic plankton, growing bigger by the minute. The shy, plump girls were like sea lions, lurking in the depths. -From Middlesex, page 297-
The novel is an exploration of immigration and the split loyalties that immigrants face. Eugenides parallels this theme with that of identity in general using the pain of adolescence and the confusion of sexual identity as spring boards to delve into the human psyche.
Middlesex is a vividly imaginative novel - epic in its scope and sensitively wrought. It is well deserving of the Pulitzer Prize.
Highly recommended; rated 4.5/5; read my original review here.