Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Kristoffer Tabori
First line: 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.
Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.”
Although the story of Middlesex starts in the Greco-Turkish city of Smyrna, it fits the definition of the Great American Novel. Hands-down, the strength of this book is the narrator Cal Stephanides, born Calliope, an intersexed person born with a genetic deficiency that causes him to appear female until puberty hits and none of the normal female changes appear.
Cal starts the story with the origin of the gene that is handed down through his grandparents, and the way the stars aligned to bring about his conception. This book is simply historical fiction at its absolute finest. I loved this tale from beginning to end – from the story of Lefty and Desdemona in Smyrna and how the Turkish invasion of the city allowed them to hide their forbidden romance; to the courtship of Cal’s parents Tessie and Milt, their romance evolving from foreplay by clarinet. Eugenides has created a fully-fleshed cast of characters and told their story in true family saga style.
Cal himself is our narrator, and it is poignant to hear him tell of his initial fears that something was wrong with Callie, the young girl he believed himself to be, from the attraction he felt for his female friends and his lack of breast development and menstruation and his failed attempts at romance with boys. As a grown man, Cal’s unique make-up hinders his attempts at romance and relationships, and the working out of his relationship with Julie Kikuchi as an adult is beautiful.
The audiobook is narrated by Kristoffer Tabori, and I can’t imagine another voice that could perfectly capture Cal and Callie, Desdemona and Lefty, Chapter Eleven and Milt and Tessie. This is, hands down, one of the best audiobooks I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.