Monday, January 28, 2008
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
At a little over five hundred pages, finishing this book felt like an accomplishment. I was grateful for the length, though, because despite certain clumsy patches I could have done without, the book was so well written that I did not want it to end.
Throughout the novel I had to keep reminding myself that this was a work of fiction and not a biography. The story of three generations of a Greek family were woven in seamlessly with historical happenings: the Turks' invasion of Greece, WWII, The Detroit riots, ect. You first meet a couple-to-be whose relationship is so taboo that it can't start until they leave their country and start over in America, where the next two generations are born. Lefty and Desdemona's working conditions and slow assimilation into American culture add a little spice and help the story kick up a notch. Later on in the novel, watching Lefty work his way into old age tugged at my heart. Overall, he was my favorite character and seemed to be the most realistically written. (Other characters in the novel seemed to act out against Eugenides and think/behave differently than you would want or expect them to in ways that did not ring true... or to me, at least.)
The second generation of the Stephanides takes up the shortest portion of the book. I found them to be less likable characters. The further into adulthood Milton progressed, the more redeeming qualities started to show themselves. His wife always seemed like a pest to me. In the middle of such an unusual story, their subplot (minus two small twists) was too stereotypically middle class American to really fit in with the rest of the book.
The third generation brings you to the main character/narrator, a hermaphrodite that we see morph from a middle class Greek-American trying to fit in with her schoolmates to a character brave enough to set out to become who s/he was born to be. You see Calliope's friendships, adolescent humiliations, and triumphs. You also see how things unfold with the first object of Calliope's affection. This section made it seem even more like a biographical account, as the love interest's name is never given and they are called the Object in order to "protect their identity".
While I was frustrated with the way Eugenides ended the family's story, I was happy with the way he ended Calliope's.