Thursday, September 5, 2013

Thursday Review: Middlesex

It's been ten years and I still don't know what the point of this book was.  I keep meaning to reread it but I never have the time.  Maybe if Amazon puts the Kindle version on sale I can listen to it at some point.

Middlesex: A Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides
March 26, 2003
(3/5 stars)

I'll agree with a lot of reviewers that "Middlesex" is well-written (mostly) and I enjoyed it very much. However, what keeps gnawing at me is, "what was the point?" In my quest to find meaning to this book I even read most of the Amazon reviews hoping for a clue, but it still eludes me. So, for now, I can only see "Middlesex" as a book where a lot of interesting stuff happens.

My first big problem with this book is that it focuses too much on the past generations and not enough on Cal/Calliope him(her)self. I just didn't see why so much time was given to the grandparents and parents. I think the incestuous relationship between the grandparents was in there because that was the "cause" of Cal's condition, but it seemed to me that he also said that because of all the prior inbreeding in the little village that defective gene already existed, so was the brother-sister marriage of the grandparents really the "cause"? I'm not convinced it was and so I don't see any reason to give them such a huge chunk of story.

I also didn't understand the point of Cal's relationship in Berlin. Was this just to give us a glimpse of how he lives as a man? The other part I didn't understand is why after 26 years of not revealing himself, he does so with this woman. It seemed tacked on.

I largely suspect that most of the historical facts and elements in this book are correct (I'm from Michigan but not Detroit so I can't say otherwise), but there are at least two inaccuracies in this novel. First, Cal says they made B-52s in automobile plants during WWII, but the B-52 was not around until the jet engine was perfected in the '50s. The person who read the book before me actually made a note of this in the book. Second, Cal talks about Al Kaline as a great first baseman and it's true that he did play 135 games at first during his major league career, but he was far better known as an outfielder for the Tigers (2,488 games in the outfield). So what? you say, A couple little slips don't matter. I don't know about you, but when I see the author making mistakes in their research, it shakes my confidence so that I have to call everything into question.

The pivotal problem in my mind is that the reason Cal decides to run away from home seemed weak and contrived. He find out that he is male in terms of organs so he decides to just up and start living like a man? Instead of running away, why not confront the doctor and postpone the surgery? Why not just say, "Hey, I want some time to think about this." When Cal does run away, I really didn't like the "Showgirl"esque strip club scenes. It seemed like a shortcut to get Cal to accept being a hermaphrodite instead of really coming to grips with it on his/her own.

Anyway, I have a number of complaints with this book, but it is an entertaining narrative. It does keep you reading through the end. I was just hoping for more. And if someone does figure out the overlying point of this book, don't hesitate to share it.


  1. Does it have to have a point beyond being an entertaining story? I suppose that some books or stories might seem so weighty that one is left searching for the point of the story, but there are lots of stories that are entertaining -- "Star Wars" for example -- that don't have a point, really, other than "This is a good story." We accept that more readily from movies rather than books, I suspect, because we're taught to see books as weightier. But what was the point of "Harry Potter," or even "Lord Of The Rings"?

    I just finished an audiobook, "Model Home" that left me sort of feeling like there had to be some kind of 'point' to it, too, even though I'll be darned if I know what it was. That didn't stop me from thinking that the book was okay.

    As to historical detail, I don't much care about that. If your story relies on being historically accurate, then I suppose you have to make sure all the details are right. But if you're just throwing in period details to provide some color, I don't mind the inaccuracies.

    1. Is that the same "Model Home" as this one I reviewed a couple years ago?:

      I think if a book wins a Pulitzer Prize we should expect it to have more meaning than an escapist fantasy like Star Wars. I'm sure Eugenides had a point he was trying to make, but I've never figured out what it might be.

  2. Your review does not make me want to read this book.

  3. Based on that glowing review I won't be reading it, but the unanswered questions are puzzling.



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