Friday, September 7, 2007

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

This is my first book in the Reading Awards Challenge and is a Pulitzer Prize winner. Just a note at the start of this review, this book is definitely NOT for everyone since the main character is a hermaphrodite. I'm not giving away anything because the main character is also the narrator and reveals this in the first paragraph of the book. There have been discussions on this blog
about reading award winning books because they win awards. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I do like to challenge myself to read books that are outside my normal comfort zone. That's why I joined the Book Awards Challenge.

Strengths of Middlesex: I truly enjoyed the epic sweep of the novel. The main character, Cal or Callie, relates the story of his immigrant family for two generations. I was very enthralled with the grandparents' story and their recreation of themselves in America. It was interesting to think about their version of the "American Dream." I thought Eugenides did an excellent job with his main character. The point of view is very clear in the story, and I found myself drawn into Cal's internal struggle as he came to terms with his identity.

Weaknesses of Middlesex: I did not like the abruptness of the ending. The story is told in flashback with some hints to Cal's current life. After spending so much time with his thoughts and family background, I wanted to know a bit more about his current life. I need to preface this part of the review by saying I am by no means prudish and quite enjoy well-written sexual scenes; however, I found some of the descriptions of Cal's life in San Francisco to be a bit over the top. I understood the author's point, but felt the writing could have been more subtle and achieve the same goal.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the book. It is not for everyone, and I don't think I would ever read it again. Would I read another book about the same character? Probably not. I'm curious to hear other people's reactions to this book. Let me know what you thought.


Literary Feline said...

I read Middlesex years ago and it was among my favorites of the year. It's still a favorite. I especially enjoyed the history that was interwoven with Cal's own story.

BookGal said...

Literary - That was probably my favorite part as well.

Nymeth said...

This is my favourite book ever, so I'm a little biased here.

I can understand how you feel about the ending, but personally I felt that it worked. I thought that the point of the story was Cal and his family's struggles to get to that point, and from then on, he was on his own. I found the ending hopeful, and although I wanted to know just how just life was going to be from then on, I thought that that desire of knowing more was part of what a good book does. I didn't want to part with the characters, but I knew I had to.

As for the sexual scenes, I really can't say I agree, because one of my favourite things about Jeffrey Eugenides is the fact that I think he writes things that would be crude in the hands of another writer with such subtlety, such delicacy, such vulnerability and such humanity that they really don't seem too much at all.

As for the book not being for everyone, I can see why you're saying that, but again, I think that considering how Eugenides writes this story, it's possible that even readers who wouldn't normally be comfortable with an hermaphrodite for a narrators would emphasize with Cal.

Sorry for blabbing, it's just that this is a book I could talk about all day :P

BookGal said...

Nymeth - I'm so glad you did post and blab. I agree that the ending was hopeful. In thinking about it, I just wanted to see how Cal, and his family, would adapt in the year or two after the novel's ending.

I'm not sure that I expressed my reservations quite correctly on the sexual content. I was discussing the book with my husband last night and realized what truly bothered me was the sense of exploitation in the San Francisco segment. I felt like I lost a bit of Cal's voice there, but, as my husband pointed out, maybe that was part of Cal's road to self-awareness and recognition.

I agree that Cal is very likable in the story. He is probably one of the most well-written narrators I've read in a long time. I hope that people could overlook any issues they may have with it and read the book.

Thanks for the discussion!

sarah565 said...

I decided to read this book after finishing "The Virgin Suicides", which I loved. "Middlesex"'s narration was excellent and the description was full. I adored the grandparents' and parents' history and how it coincided with the Michigan's history. Cal was, by far, my favorite story because I felt I could sympathize with her middle school insecurities (though not to the extent she truly felt).

However, I found some of the scenes described by Cal concerning her relations somewhat uncomfortable. I understand she was finding herself and I liked to know what she was thinking, but, as many of the other commenters have said, this book
is not for everybody.

I highly recommend this book to a person with an open mind.

BookGal said...

Sarah - Thanks for your comments. I agree with you. I've never read The Virgin Suicides. Maybe I'll add it to my TBR list.

cj said...

Thanks for the linkage, Bookgal!

I'm reading Middlesex right now. I've had a bit of a hard time getting into it, but I've also been distracted by Cal and his RIP and life in general. This morning, when I was reading before going to sleep (I worked nights last night) I felt like the story had finally reached me. So that's a good thing. I'll definitely let you know what I think.


Trish said...

Ok, I can see that some of the same people who commented on my "review" also commented here. Unfortunately I didn't love it as much as Nymeth, but I wish I had. I really really wanted to like this book, and I think maybe it was just a bad time for me to read it (really busy, stressed, etc). The book was WAY too long, BUT I agree that the end wasn't enough for me. I know the main focus was about Cal's transformation and finding out who he/she is, but it left me wanting a little more. And I agree about SF. The whole mollusk thing was a little too much for me. :) BUT, I do think that the rest of the book was handled with grace.

Whew. Thanks for coming by earlier!

Peggy said...

I really enjoyed the book but am dying to know why he refers to his brother as "Chapter Eleven". I have discussed this at the office and we all were waiting up til the last page to have this explained....did we miss something?

BookGal said...

Trish - Thanks for your comments. I agree with you.

Peggy - Good question. I have no idea. It was never explained or I totally missed it as well. If anyone knows, please post and let us know.