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I was rather expecting this to be a sober and gruelling tale of conflicted sexual identity. I was almost completely wrong. Middlesex is largely an exuberant tale of growing up as a girl in a Greek-American family. The first delight is the complex background of her grandparents, brother and sister who escape from the inferno of Smyrna in 1922 and marry each other in a secretly incestuous union. Then there is a tough but engaging depiction of the Greek-American community of Grosse Pointe and Detroit, against the background of mid-century America: the Depression, the war, the riots of the 1960s, and the moment of truth in the 1970s when Chekhov's gun goes off, and Cal chooses to be male after fourteen years of being a girl.

Rather as Romeo and Juliet works partly because we are told up front by the Chorus that the title characters are going to die, Middlesex is absolutely clear about what is going to happen, and its charm is the clarity with which it is all laid out. I have absolutely no idea how relevant or true to life it is for readers who have themselves grappled with gender identification issues (and would be very interested to hear reactions from such quarters); it certainly raised my consciousness while also entertaining me greatly. Strongly recommended.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
frumiousb
Jun. 7th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
I liked it a lot-- I'm not sure that I loved it, largely because the memories faded rather rapidly. I still haven't gotten round to reading anything else by Eugenides.
alese
Jun. 9th, 2009 09:32 am (UTC)
I'm in exactly the same camp. I'll see about deliberately looking for something else by Eugenides the next time I'm at the library.
bellinghman
Jun. 7th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
I picked up a copy in Basel a few years back, and I too enjoyed it much more than I expected.
lasultrix
Jun. 7th, 2009 03:35 pm (UTC)
'exuberant' is exactly the right word for this book. Once Callie's voice comes to the forefront, it's difficult not to get swept away and smile.

I did have a problem that struck at the heart of the story though. I simply couldn't buy Callie as male-identified. If you weren't to know what's coming, it simply seems like the story of a girl (in a refreshingly angst-free manner) coming to terms with the fact that she's a lesbian. None of her introspective moments concern any mishmash between her identity and social norms other than her liking girls. She seems entirely comfortable in her skin.

Plus, if we're to get into the murky world of gender stereotypes, her gentleness, sense of giddy romance, and love of playing with pretty words fit far more closely with concepts of femininity than masculinity. Oh, and her strong attraction to the OO is so free from vulgarity that at times it seems as if she's a painter admiring the OO's beauty rather than, to put it bluntly, somebody who really wants to get the OO's knickers off. Again, fits more with feminine ideas.

Then to suddenly come across a hidden doctor's note saying she's chromosomally male and take off to live as a man forever with no regrets... it didn't read as true to me in the slightest.

30 seconds' wikipedia-looking tells me that the author is married to a woman, which narrows though of course doesn't eliminate the possibility that he's transsexual himself.

(Oops, I misspelled chromosoMally. It's not an intuitive word!)

Edited at 2009-06-07 03:37 pm (UTC)
cassave
Jun. 7th, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)
I don't know who wrote the screenplay for the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", but I DO know that (s)he must have read "Middlesex"...
lasultrix
Jun. 7th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)
"The Hair Belt"? ;)
lasultrix
Jun. 7th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
Apparently they both came out in 2002, so no influence on either side I imagine.
raycun
Jun. 8th, 2009 08:33 am (UTC)
I enjoyed it, but liked The Virgin Suicides more.
Middlesex seems to slip a little into a standard multi-generational-immigrant-family thing, which I feel like I've read a few times before. Suicides has that narration by chorus, which felt very new.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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