Sunday, August 12, 2012

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

A girl becomes a man

Two stories entwine in this ambitious novel. The first is the three -generation immigration saga of the Turco-Greek Stephanides family and how they became prosperous Americans, rising along with the city of Detroit. The second is the story of Calliope Stephanides, Detroit teenager, who discovers something terribly shocking and unique about herself.  She's a freak.

I found the immigration story off putting at first - the prose was brittle and "rollicking" and there were pages and pages of it. The long and complicated family history, however, serves as the scallop shell or presentation for the very moving story of Calliope's "two births". The story picks up considerably about halfway through when Callie finally leaves off her grandparents' story and begins her own.

Calliope begins life as a much desired pretty little girl and slowly starts to realize something is wrong, something is different about her. Her story is suspenseful, hounded by the ticking clock of puberty. The prose changes as well -gone iss the hyper energetic Keystone Kops rhythm, and in its place are carefully written scenes describing the life of a prosperous young girl. And when Callie has to make a decision, whether to continue life as a woman, although a woman lacking "eroto sexual sensation," or to keep on becoming a man, her decision is instantaneous. It's also the moment she goes from child to adult.

This novel is also a love story to Detroit, to immigrant hustle, to Greek Orthodox ritual. The Elijah Muhammad subplot is hilarious. Like all excellent novels, the story worked on many levels and was supported by a structure of symbols - the silkworm, the mulberry tree, the Muses, Tireseas . I enjoyed it quite a bit.

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