Worth the read.

I just finished Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex. Highly recommended! It's the story of Cal (born Calliope), a person who is a chromosomal male, but with indeterminate genitalia. Assumed to be a girl at her birth, Calliope is raised as a girl by her parents, but comes to realize the truth about his identity as a teenager and soon comes to live his life as the male Cal. It's a great family saga, spanning three generations of the Stephanides family. It begins "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 with that line, the reader is thrown into the confusion, the guilt, the shame, the secrets, and the insecurity that attend not only Cal but his parents and grandparents.

Cal is a great protagonist, and it felt like a privilege to be there, hearing him unravel the story of his and his family's past. It's as though the telling of his story is what allows Cal to make sense of the whole thing himself.

One of my favorite passages:
Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age." I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar."
I also liked that the end of the novel is not perfectly resolved; everything isn't packaged in a perfect bow and made to feel nicey-nice. There is resolution, and a satisfying ending, but not at the expense of the integrity of the narrative.

Next up on my reading list? Possibly Lord of the Flies, which I've never read. It's been sitting on my shelf unopened for some time. Any other suggestions for me? What do I absolutely have to read this year?


Joy said...

That sounds like a great book! I also loved "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"-- it really raised some interesting questions and made me think about certain securities that I have never questioned, like having someone culture my cells and reproduce and sell them without my knowledge or consent.

Nicole K/GothamGal said...

I read Middlesex a few years ago.
I've read 'A Reliable Wife' recently and liked it. Currently reading 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett.

chksngr said...

I've read A Reliable Wife, but didn't care for it. It was too....mannish for the genre? I guess...the sexual content was not the more subtle, emotional kind that female authors write...it was ummmm...direct. Anyway...I've heard that "the Help" is fantastic. I like historical fiction (when I read it) and I'm currently reading A Beautiful Blue Death with is a murder mystery set in victorian england. And I just finished "Clara and Mr. Tiffany" which was interesting...

nancy said...

Sounds like a great book... very interesting.

I just finished The Handmaid's Tale. I think it's kind of older, but I really enjoyed it. I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic story lines.

And looks like every one here has read A Reliable Wife! Everyone in my book club hated it, but I loved it. The writing was stupendous and the plot was sophisticated.