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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Middlesex (2002) by Jeffrey Eugenides


Book Review
Middlesex (2002)
 by Jeffrey Eugenides

  I bought a hard back copy of Middlesex when it was published in 2002.  I promptly left it sitting on a shelf for the next 15 years.  I just couldn't face the multi-generational story of an American immigrant family, narrated by an intersex hermaphrodite, and written by a white male.  Now I don't know where my hard copy is, so I listened to the Audiobook.  Clocking in at 20 hours plus, Middlesex isn't exactly a fun listen, but at least it's not a forty hour book written in the 19th century.   Eugenides is, by all accounts, a clever writer, and Middlesex was an enormous hit- selling over four million copies world wide according to the well-maintained Wikipedia page.

  Even allowing for the novelty of an intersex narrator, the form of Middlesex seems as dated as a serial written by Charles Dickens in 1858.  Perhaps it's the introduction of the novel intersex narrator, paired with the traditional multi-generational narrative, that explains the wide popular audience for the written book.  Eugenides also makes use of the clever narrative trick, first used by Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy, wherein the narrator narrates his own birth- in this case-starting the action with the narrator's grandparents/siblings in Greek populated Asia minor.   This allows him to expand the action beyond the inner city and suburbs of Detroit, to encompass some actual 20th century action.   Alas, after an encounter between the narrators grandmother and a Nascent Nation of Islam, the rest of Middlesex settles down into a more or less conventional LGBT coming-of-age tale.   It's nice for the intersex to have a voice, but I'd prefer an actual intersex author.

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