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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
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Middlesex (2002)

by Jeffrey Eugenides

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
24,18857089 (4.11)894
In the spring of 1974, Calliope Stephanides, a student at a girls' school in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, finds herself drawn to a chain-smoking, strawberry blonde classmate with a gift for acting. The passion that furtively develops between them--along with Callie's failure to develop--leads Callie to suspect that she is not like other girls. In fact, she is not really a girl at all.… (more)
  1. 101
    The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (sipthereader, sturlington)
  2. 81
    Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (_debbie_)
    _debbie_: Both are (at least partially) historical novels with strong themes of identity, coming of age, and going against the mainstream to stay true to what you feel is right. Although one is set in Victorian England and the other isn't, they both have that same feel of rich language and descriptive place.… (more)
  3. 81
    The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving (Othemts)
    Othemts: Multi-generational eccentric families, entrepreneurship, incest, the average made epic - yep, these books have it all!
  4. 82
    A Widow for One Year by John Irving (readerbabe1984)
  5. 83
    The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (bookmomo)
    bookmomo: share the same exquisite sense of setting: boring, but not terrible suburban America, second half of last century.
  6. 51
    As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto (librorumamans, librorumamans)
    librorumamans: The connection of this book to Middlesex is Eugenides' character, Dr Luce, who appears to be modelled on Dr John Money of Johns Hopkins University. As Nature Made Him is a non-fiction account of Money's experimental (and unsuccessful) sex reassignment of David Reimer, whose botched infant circumcision left him genitally mutilated. Both books compellingly look at the complexity of gender identity.… (more)
  7. 20
    Anywhere but Here by Mona Simpson (ainsleytewce)
    ainsleytewce: Both are very American stories, about families in the 20th century, fighting wars, starting businesses, raising families, and both feature a teenage protagonist.
  8. 64
    The Human Stain by Philip Roth (sarah-e)
    sarah-e: A character 'passes' in society - dealing with culture and identity.
  9. 10
    Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City by Marjorie Housepian Dobkin (Anonymous user)
  10. 10
    How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States by Joanne Meyerowitz (jacr)
  11. 10
    The Hours by Michael Cunningham (sturlington)
  12. 10
    The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Thomas J. Sugrue (jacr)
    jacr: A scholarly discussion of the decline of Detroit and its race riots. People who liked Eugenides's fictional account of Detroit might be interested in this historical version.
  13. 32
    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (someproseandcons)
    someproseandcons: Both books are family and community sagas centered around secrets, and both books are carried by a strong and compelling voice.
  14. 32
    The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich (ainsleytewce)
    ainsleytewce: Both begin with immigrants who come to America at approximately the same time.
  15. 22
    Intersex: A Perilous Difference by Morgan Holmes (boat-song)
    boat-song: Contains an amazing chapter on Eugenides and Middlesex, and for those interested in gender, a must read.
  16. 00
    Getting Ghost: Two Young Lives and the Struggle for the Soul of an American City by Luke Bergmann (paulkid)
    paulkid: Get a little history of Detroit from the stories of the people who lived there.
  17. 11
    Labor of Love: The Story of One Man's Extraordinary Pregnancy by Thomas Beatie (infiniteletters)
  18. 00
    Sugarless by James Magruder (amberwitch)
    amberwitch: Similar topic and era
  19. 23
    Annabel by Kathleen Winter (BookshelfMonstrosity, Booktrovert)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Annabel follows the life of a hermaphrodite who was not masculine enough to please his father. The novel explores themes of family relations, gender roles, and sexual identity similar to those in Middlesex.
    Booktrovert: While reminiscent of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, Annabel is a compelling and accomplished debut novel about one person’s struggle to discover the truth in a culture that shuns contradiction. Annabel offers some hard themes for readers. It is the story of an intersex child born in a remote coastal Labrador village in 1968. Primarily, I feel, Winter has written an homage to self-determination and self-preservation. An intersex child is born with atypical reproductive anatomy – both male and female anatomy are present. Advocates for intersex infants argue against surgical alterations of gentalia and reproductive organs being performed in order to accommodate societal expectations of what it means to be male or female in the world. This choice forms the centre of Winter’s novel.… (more)
  20. 01
    The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (2810michael)

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» See also 894 mentions

English (555)  Italian (4)  Spanish (3)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (569)
Showing 1-5 of 555 (next | show all)
On one level, this was a really interesting book. Over the week and a half that I was reading it, I spent so much time doing outside reading on the many topics it raised – the Great Fire of Smyrna (and how Greeks were pushed out of modern-day Turkey in general), the rise and fall of Detroit, race riots, "white flight", and intersex conditions (like 5-alpha reductase deficiency, which Cal, the narrator, has). Although the book was better read in small doses, it was extremely absorbing and even once I'd walked away the themes would keep playing on my mind.

On another level, though, I'm not really satisfied with how the story was told. For a start, first-person omniscient is a weird perspective choice. Cal had an engaging voice, but there were so many times that it just got distracting that he knew so much about, say, what his grandparents thought about when they had sex. As well, the book felt somewhat disconnected. One of the other reviews described this book as being like two books glommed together – like Eugenides had written a compelling 150-page novella about Cal but then his publisher asked him to bolt a 400-page story about the Greek-American immigrant experience onto the start. This might not be what actually happened, but from reading it, you'd be forgiven for thinking it is. Both stories are interesting in their own right, but they don't really gel.

The other issue was that I felt like the story about Cal being intersex came out half-baked. The biological side was covered, and I really enjoyed the story of the younger Callie (as she was at the time) discovering the depth of her attraction to other girls and her friendship with the Obscure Object. The thing was that Cal's entire story up to and including this point seemed to be the story of a gay girl – he even states at one point that he never felt out of place as a girl, and even 25 years later still didn't feel entirely at home among men – and the decision to transition just seemed so rushed. I naturally understand why he wouldn't want "feminising" surgery, particularly given it carried the risk of him never experiencing sexual pleasure again, but his sense that he had to socially transition seemed to stem more from not wanting to be gay. Like, Cal had felt that it was wrong to be attracted to other girls, but if he'd secretly been a dude the whole time then phew! Actually it was OK to be attracted to girls all along – and in fact it proved his masculinity!

To be clear, I don't think Eugenides was trying to say that a defining feature of manhood or womanhood is attraction to the opposite sex. Really, I got the impression that he thinks gender itself is artificial, a social convention that we feel obliged to push onto people. Cal comments, towards the end of the book, that the leap from childhood to adulthood was far greater than that from girlhood to boyhood. Indeed, when he decides to transition, the changes that he makes are superficial things: a masculine wardrobe, a haircut, and learning to imitate men's body language. Cal is still fundamentally the same person he always was. I think it's also an important point that Cal's body – an intersex body – might have been atypical, but it wasn't unhealthy and didn't need artificial interventions like surgery. In the book, Cal never seems to feel ill-at-ease in his own skin: all his problems stem from other people's expectations. When he transitions, he does so because he feels his natural self runs closer to what society expects men to be than what it expects from women (including being attracted to women). However, whether as a girl or a man, the only discomfort he really feels is when he can't meet other's expectations: that is, he never gets his period or develops breasts as an adolescent, and he can't offer his lovers penile penetration as an adult, but these only pose problems in relation to others. Really, for him, gender is how society perceives him: he's the same Cal either way.

Even though it would have made the novel longer than it already is (which is almost 200,000 words – the longest book I've read so far this year), I think it could have done with more material (i.e. any material) on Cal growing up and going through young adulthood. The story ends when he's still only 15, a few months after finding out he's intersex, and aside from a few brief and woefully underdeveloped flash-forwards to 41-year-old Cal, we never really get to read anything about Cal getting to grips with manhood, the way we saw Callie grapple with what it meant to be a teenage girl. To me, this felt like a gaping hole in the story. Eugenides could even have slimmed down the 400-page "migrant experience" story to make more room for this (it was pretty verbose, after all). I think the book is lesser for not having it.

To try and wrap this all up, Middlesex is a ground-breaking, thought-provoking book, but it's also a bit of a mess and I feel like it will be (or will have been already) superseded by better books on intersexuality, the history of Detroit, and immigration (not necessarily all in the same book). It's worth reading, but I now feel like I'm on the look out for better treatments of these same themes. ( )
  Jayeless | May 27, 2020 |
This is fated to be remembered as the book about the hermaphrodite, and it is that, but it's very much more. If you like family drama and secrets--some very deeply-held secrets--you will find them here. As for the narrator Cal's, ahem, condition...well, imagine being thirteen again and being confronted with sexuality--your own and others'--and Cal's predicaments may no longer seem quite so odd. ( )
  ChristopherSwann | May 15, 2020 |
This was sort of beautiful, sort of infuriating. I have relatively complicated feelings on the matter. ( )
  qingerqueer | May 5, 2020 |
Simply one of the greatest books I have ever read, and a deserving winner of the Pullitzer. Stunning. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 27, 2020 |
I have very mixed feelings about this book.

The parts about Detroit from young Cal's perspective were electrifying, particularly her perspective on the race riots. That profoundly affected me as both a reader and a writer. Everything I have written since I read Middlesex has been influenced by that part of the book, because it is masterful at depicting something that a child cannot possibly understand through a child's eyes. Any story with a child character could benefit from so profound a sympathy with the way children view the world.

The parts about Greek culture and family life were also interesting to read, especially in relation to the cultural change in America at the time when this novel is set.

The parts about Cal's experience as intersex are god-awful. Eugenides clearly did his research when it came to the medical details, but I wonder if the author ever spoke to any intersex people, or even read blogs or books written by them. It would be as if a man writing a woman character did his research by looking up estrogen and ovaries, instead of actually finding out what it's like to live as a woman in our society. It felt sensationalist, insulting, and totally clueless about how gender identity is formed.

I would reread this book, but only the part set in Detroit. ( )
  dreamweaversunited | Apr 27, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 555 (next | show all)
This novel repeats the stand-out achievements of The Virgin Suicides: an ability to describe the horrible in a comic voice, an unusual form of narration and an eye for bizarre detail.
added by SqueakyChu | editGuardian, Mark Lawson (Oct 5, 2002)
 
Eugenides does such a superb job of capturing the ironies and trade-offs of assimilation that Calliope's evolution into Cal doesn't feel sudden at all, but more like a transformation we've been through ourselves.
 
Some of this footloose book is charming. Most of it is middling.
added by Shortride | editTime, Richard Lacayo (Sep 23, 2002)
 
His narrator is a soul who inhabits a liminal realm, a creature able to bridge the divisions that plague humanity, endowed with ''the ability to communicate between the genders, to see not with the monovision of one sex but in the stereoscope of both.'' That utopian reach makes ''Middlesex'' deliriously American; the novel's patron saint is Walt Whitman, and it has some of the shagginess of that poet's verse to go along with the exuberance. But mostly it is a colossal act of curiosity, of imagination and of love.
 
''Middlesex'' is a novel about roots and rootlessness. (The middle-sex, middle-ethnic, middle-American DNA twists are what move Cal to Berlin; the author now lives there too.) But the writing itself is also about mixing things up, grafting flights of descriptive fancy with hunks of conversational dialogue, pausing briefly to sketch passing characters or explain a bit of a bygone world.

''The Virgin Suicides'' is all of a piece, contained within the boundaries of one neighborhood; ''Middlesex'' -- a strange Scheherazade of a book -- is all in pieces, as all big family stories are, bursting the boundaries of logic.
 

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eugenides, Jeffreyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bagnoli, KatiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nilsson, Hans-JacobTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tabori, KristofferNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Yama, who comes from a different gene pool entirely
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I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.
Quotations
"Don't you think it would have been easier just to stay the way you were?"
I lifted my face and looked into my mother's eyes. And I told her: "This is the way I was."
The textbook publishers would make sure to cover my face. The black box: a fig leaf in reverse, concealing identity while leaving shame exposed.
Historical fact: people stopped being human in 1913. That was the year Henry Ford put his cars on rollers and made his workers adopt the speed of the assembly line. At first, the workers rebelled. They quit in droves, unable to accustom their bodies to the new pace of the age. Since then, adaptation has been passed down: we've all inherited it to some degree, so that we plug right into joysticks and remotes, to repetitive motions of a hundred kinds.

But in 1922 it was still a new thing to be a machine.
He looked up at me with no expression, blinking. That was Chapter Eleven's way. Everything went on in him internally. Inside his braincase sensations were being reviewed, evaluated, before any reaction was given. I was used to this, of course...He was quiet, blinking. There was the usual lag time while he thought.
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Three generations of a Greek American family find themselves plagued by a mutant gene which causes bizarre side effects in the family's teenage girls.
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