This summer I rediscovered my local used bookstores, which means I've been adding a few backlist titles to my reading list. I have all of this renewed excitement to tackle books I've meant to read for years! I remember working at the bookstore when Middlesex came out and adding it to my mental rolodex. It never made it further than that until now, but it was certainly worth the wait.
Middlesex (by Jeffrey Eugenides) is a Greek family saga and a coming of age story...with a twist. [Sidenote: Kids read this in school now, right? I wonder how it's taught.] Cal Stephanides, our intrepid narrator, let's us know right out of the gate that there's something unique about him.
"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."
Tracking the journey of a chromosomal mutation through generations of Stephanides, we move through the incestual relationship between brother and sister (Cal's grandparents) fleeing war-torn Greece in 1922 to kissing cousins (his parents) in Detroit to the birth of a beautiful daughter. As Calliope navigates adolescence and the beginnings of puberty, hints of Judy Blume and Are You There God? It's me, Margaret come through as we see her struggle with her boyish figure and lack of a period. Woven throughout are glimpses into the life of modern-day Cal, still searching for fulfilling love.
I can't not mention the city of Detroit. More than just a historical backdrop, the city felt like a living, breathing character, playing an important role in shaping this immigrant family. Eugenides took us from the Black Bottom neighborhood of 1932 Detroit to the rise of the Nation of Islam to the 1967 riots and white flight to the suburbs. Between that and the peek into Greek culture, Eugenides dangled catnip in the form of plenty of "googlable" historic trails.
Finally, I wanted to give the author a standing ovation for knowing how to end a book. Too many of the books that I read these days just seem about a chapter or two too long. It's like authors feel some internal pressure to wrap everything up in a neat bow and don't trust readers enough to get what the author intends.
Bottom line? Read it. Eugenides earned that Pulitzer.