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Middlesex

by Jeffrey Eugenides

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By

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
Farrar Straus & Giroux
2002


To call Middlesex a coming-of-age novel about a hermaphrodite would be like calling The Odyssey a story about some guy on a boat. Middlesex is nothing short of epic; one family's survival on a twisted path through Greece to 20th Century America; battles ranging from the fires of the Turkish wars, the igniting of Michigan race riots, and the burning desires hidden within a girl named Callie and the man named Cal who she is to become.

Tracing through generations of one family, scientifically following one abnormal gene, just waiting for its chance to emerge; it begins in Greece as a love starts to develop between Cal's grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty, a forbidden love because Desdemona and Lefty share a bedroom long before they are married; a forbidden love because Desdemona and Lefty are brother and sister.

Jeffrey Eugenides creates a struggle within the reader that parallels that within the siblings, one of taboos, slowly being overshadowed by the realization that their love for each other is pure. The sexual tension each time they accidentally touch, the desperate attempts by Desdemona to find a wife for the brother she secretly desires, the gasp of relief when their lips finally meet.
Writing on a topic so controversial, so easily disturbing, Eugenides finds a graceful way to draw in the reader, void of judgment.

After fleeing to American soil and assuming a new identity as husband and wife the tale becomes one of gentrification; of trying to hold on to cultural roots while the world becomes homogenized around them. One particularly striking character was Desdemona and Lefty's cousin, Sourmelina, or as she referred to herself, Lina. Lina embodied the flapper lifestyle living up the bootleg age, and had managed to erase "just about anything identifiably Greek about her." What made Lina even more intriguing was that she was a somewhat open lesbian, dreaming of showgirls, while her husband attempted to make them a child. Lina is just one of the many characters that is only briefly seen, but leaves a strong impression on the reader and also serves as a symbol foreshadowing Callie's future of repressed sexuality. Middlesex is so perfectly crafted that every action, every side, helps to subtlety push along the overall themes.

The story is broken up into three books, the first being the love story of Desdemona and Lefty, the second being the love story of Milton (the child of Desdemona and Lefty) and Tessie (the child of Lina, their cousin). Again the taboos of incestual love come into play and again they are dissolved, this time by a charming romance of clarinet serenades. Milton and Tessie get married and lead us into the third Book with the birth of their child, a attractive young girl named Callie, whose beauty, prior to puberty, was often compared to Grecian statues of young men.

Greece plays a large role in the story, as all characters seem tightly tied to their roots, but those roots are often covered in Americana. Milton opens a hot dog business called "Hercules of Hot Dogs," drawing them in with giant pillars of exotic Greek flare, while all the while he longs for the capitalist American dream. Callie's tale is broken up into Books, and when it comes time in her classroom to read Book Three of The Iliad, it is no coincidence that Eugenides picks on Callie, nor is it coincidence that her school play is Antigone.
Callie was cast as Tiresias the soothsayer, and as puberty reared its evil head, it was during this play, this mocking of Greek tradition, that Callie would finally be able to see the future and realize that she had been Cal all along.

Following the acclaimed Virgin Suicides Eugenides swiftly surpasses all the expectations the literary world held him to, creating a flawless Greek epic so compelling Homer himself should leap from his grave to pat Eugenides on the back. Middlesex is pure brilliance, a novel that most surely will secure its place in the literary canon for generations to come. In a world where shock sells, and sex even more, this tale of incest, of a family torn by death and rage, of a man living as a girl, could not possibly be sweeter to the taste.

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