“Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenide
“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.”
And thus begins a story filled with identity crisises, incest, strange romance and humor. I don’t know how I would feel if a guy I was dating told me that he has a vag, but the novel gives light to those who are often forgotten: hermaphrodites.
Gender roles play a large part in our society, and people don’t like going against the social norm. Only a writer like Jeffrey Eugenide could weave a controversial story of a young girl’s journey to becoming a man into a beautifully crafted book.
Calliope begins her modern myth of a genetic mutation that was passed down through three generations of the Stephanides family. Born and raised as a girl, it is later discovered that Calliope has an XY chromosomal status and ambiguous gender. To maintain her trained feminine gender identity, a doctor has recommended feminizing surgery and hormone therapy. Calliope refuses the treatment, running away and beginning her new life as Cal, a man, consistent with her genetic determinants.
Before even getting to Cal’s story, we have over 200 pages of his family history. A Forrest Gump-like effort, the novel touches on major historical events weaved into the characters lives–the burning of Smyrna, Malcom X and the Detroit’s Nation of Islam movement, race riots, San Francisco sixties. Though interesting, I just wanted to get to his own story.
Like “The Virgin Suicides,” the novel lacks a conclusion that wraps everything up. Yes, it might be disappointing, but the journey to the end makes up for it.