After reading The Virgin Suicides, I was anxious to get into more of Jeffrey Eugenides’ work.
Published in 2002, Middlesex is the author’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel that initially didn’t reach as large of an audience as his debut, but eventually was renowned by fans and critics alike.
The essence of this novel is two-fold: Eugenides describes his insightful an often painful journey of discovering his true identity, and he does so in the midst of a turbulent historical and cultural backdrop. (Giving the title itself a two-fold meaning.)
The first two-thirds of the novel consist of Eugenides’ childhood and past, beginning with how and why his grandparents came to America, an ending with his fourteen-year-old realization that he was indeed different from others his age.
The author, already wise beyond his years as a teenager, had to find out through the embarrassing procedures of a specialist that he was hermaphroditic. While at first some of his family’s past memories seemed tiresome, after the novel’s completion the reader understands why he delved so much into the history of his parents and grandparents, as it was their choices and decisions which inevitably led to his being birthed the way he was.
Ironically, both males in each previous generation somehow escaped the death and turmoil of war by sheer luck. By their lives being saved, they were able to continue into marriage, children, an essentially, (without knowing it would happen,) giving birth to a daughter that was actually a son.
Due to the often confusing element of trying to decipher exactly who was married and who was related to who, Eugenides forces readers to think; not just about his family tree, but of our own. He also writes about his experiences honestly, but through a lens of both pain and humor. (Let’s not forget that comedy and tragedy are the two main ingredients in Greek theater.)
He also happens to tell his story while vividly describing the culture, history and scenery of his grandparent’s home country, his parent’s life in America, and his own experiences growing up in Detroit and Middlesex in the 1960s-1970s. Anyone of Greek descent or anyone who grew up in Detroit during this time period will thoroughly enjoy his accurate and descriptive views, while also recognizing the effect they had on him growing up. Simple mentions of things like “auto-erotica” and presidents never having more than two vowels or syllables in their name, will surely spark a laugh.
Probably my favorite excerpt in the entire novel was when he describes his father’s death, turning a tragic event in a Cadillac into something surreal and beautiful.
The only thing I could ask more of this novel is to learn about the author’s current affairs, to learn about his experiences from age fifteen to where he is currently, to learn when exactly he decided to change his name, and to learn when exactly he found out about his entire family history. Although I doubt he’s one to hold grudges, I also wonder if he holds any resentment towards his family, as their mistakes are what forced him to lead a somewhat abnormal life. If he could go back in time, would Eugenides change anything?
“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, and finally, to commune with the dead. You get older, you puff on the stairs, you enter the body of your father. From there it’s only a quick jump to your grandparents, and then before you know it you’re time-traveling. In this life we grow backwards.”