I hadn't gotten old enough yet to realize that living sends a person not into the future but back into the past, to childhood and before birth, finally, to commune with the dead... In this life we grow backwards.
When I picked up this book I was expecting to read a narrative about a hermaphrodite. On the surface that is what I got, however it turned out to be much more than that. Middlesex is Eugenides' magnum opus, a grand narrative that weaves the story of three generations of Greek-Americans into an unforgeable piece of literature. The synopsis of this novel claims it is a "reinvention of the American epic" and I think that is an accurate description. The work as a whole felt organic and pieced together many working parts so perfectly that I was left in awe.
The novel is preoccupied with the idea splits and divides; within our identity, our desires, our families, our culture and our place in the world. Our narrator, Calliope (or Callie, and later Cal) is a personification of this divide and inhabits the vulnerable threshold of these boarders. Among other things, he is divided between mind and body, between reason and passion. As the title implies, Middlesex raises questions about gender identity and removes the preconceived notions that these gender distinctions are black and white. It examines the difference between gender and sex, and the extent to which these identities are socially molded verses genetically inherited. In what capacity do our genes dictate our destiny?
Parents are supposed to pass down physical traits to their children, but it's my belief that all sorts of other things get passed down to: motifs, scenarios, even fates.Eugenides also highlights the theme of escape and the anonymity of recreation it allows. He explores this idea on many levels, from escaping one's homeland to escaping one's body and finally, escaping life (in death) and its implications:
Out in these streets people were embroiled in a thousand matters, money problems, love problems, school problems. People were falling in love, getting married, going to drug rehab, learning how to ice-skate, getting bifocals, studying for exams, trying on clothes, getting their hair cut, and getting born. And in some houses people were getting old and sick and were dying, leaving others to grieve. It was happening all the time, unnoticed, and it was the thing that really mattered.What really mattered in life, what give it weight, was death.This is truly an amazing book. If you haven't already read it, I highly recommended you do so. I should also mention this would be a great choice for a book club, as I feel there is much to discuss. Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003.
Publisher: Picador, 2002