Middlesex

25 Mar

Middlesex

You forgot I had a book list, didn’t you?

Indeed, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading books, it’s that I am an incredibly slow, unmotivated reader. No matter how gripping the novel is, no matter how many times I tell myself “I WILL READ A CHAPTER TONIGHT,” I hardly ever take the time to sit down and read the book. Though, in my defense, it’s not entirely my fault that it took me 3 ½ months plus to read Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex.  The thing is hella long.

How long, you say? I’m glad you asked. Described by its jacket as an “American epic,” Middlesex tells the story of Calliope Stephanides, the narrator, an individual born with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency (ie: he is a hermaphrodite; born and raised as a girl, he later begins a new life as the male “Cal”). And where does the story start? Another question I’m glad you asked. It starts with Callie’s birth. Then, it goes back to his grandparents, who used to be siblings (the novel can get a little uncomfortable at times), in a small Greek village in the summer of 1922. From there, the story migrates with the couple to Detroit and continues through all three generations of the family, even jumping to Cal’s adult life on occasion. The scope is, to put it lightly, grand, and it captures everything: the burning of Smyrna, the Prohibition era, the Great Depression, World War II, the Vietnam War, the Detroit Race Riots, the Sexual Revolution. In fact, just about everything in this book is remarkably expansive: its themes range from those of sexual confusion to alienation to assimilation to the role of technology in American society. Even the elements of the story itself: at its climax, Cal discovers the truth about himself and embarks on a journey from New York to San Francisco.

There’s usually a problem with books of such daunting length: they’re notoriously boring and difficult reads. It’s the reason that only the most devoted fans of The Lord of the Rings have actually read the books. It’s the reason why so many are terrified of War and Peace.  And what about Middlesex? Is it boring? The simple answer: no. To be more specific: hell no. Eugenides has several valuable gifts as a writer. One is ingenious imagery. Half the time in this novel, he uses his words to invoke scenes from a film in favor of those from real life: a shot through the frame of binoculars or a time lapse sequence of a pregnancy, for example. It fits the grandiosity and ambition of the novel perfectly, making it seem as though one were reading a true epic rather than a really, really long book.

Perhaps his finest gift, though, and the one that makes the book as splendorous as it is: his love of characters.  Ever so expansive, this novel contains a wide cast of characters, and each one is developed beautifully. Eugenides’ passion for them is evident, and it spreads; it’s pretty hard to pick a favorite. There’s Desdemona, a loyal wife and mother who seems to dwell eternally on her own grief. There’s Milton, Cal’s father, who is equal parts a reckless dreamer and a staunch realist. The list is endless, and each character adds humor, diversity, and life to the book.

And what a book it is. It’s marvelously expansive, captivating, and funny. You should read it!

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Next, I begin reading A Clockwork Orange at a panicked speed. In the meantime, I continue with my Anime selection, watching and reviewing Tekkon Kinkreet.

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