This is the sixth of a many-part series written by the staff and editors of Fringe Magazine, who will be reviewing books from the Pool as part of the 25 Books Project.
After having read Jeffrey Eugenides’ first novel, The Virgin Suicides, I was prepared for his sophomore effort, Middlesex. However, this delightful, titillating, sprawling saga of “the rollercoaster ride of a single gene through time” still managed to surprise me.
Middlesex tells the story of the Stephanides family, beginning in the mountains of Greece and spanning the globe -- the narrative jumps from Detroit to Berlin to San Francisco and back again. Our narrator and tour guide for this slightly fantastical journey is one Cal Stephanides, a fastidious and mysterious man in his early forties. Though he hides his past from those in his life, he is frank with the reader from the first sentence, “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.”
From that astonishing opening, Cal spins the tale of his former self, Calliope Helen Stephanides, her eccentric Greek family, and her shocking discovery in the midst of a heady coming-of-age. Though Calliope’s journey of self-discovery is wholly unique, her story expresses the pathos of sexual awakening and the confusion that comes with adolescence.
Eugenides is truly masterful in his writing, shifting seamlessly from Cal’s viewpoint to Calliope’s, and keeping us with him (or her) the entire time. It is easy to see why Middlesex was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The Stephanides family is not one you’ll soon forget, even as you’re still reeling from the surreal events of their fraught history.