Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

Book Cover Image: Middlesex by Jeffrey EugenidesTitle: Middlesex

Author: Jeffrey Eugenides

Narrator: Kristoffer Tabori

Length of Audiobook: 21 hours and 14 minutes

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent drivers license…records my first name simply as Cal

“So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.”

Thoughts: There was always something about the title of this 2002 novel that struck me as a bit inappropriate; as a result, I ignored Middlesex for years. Having devoured the audiobook in a matter of days, I truly wish I had forced myself to pick it up sooner, for it will go down as one of my favorite novels I’ve read this year. The entire Stephanides clan moved me to tears, made me laugh out loud, and forced me to take a closer look at this thing called life and all the chance happenings that make us unique individuals.

Middlesex is a story that is indeed epic, crossing continents as well as generations, all while highlighting the importance of love. Desdemona and Lefty, Tessie and Milt, and most importantly Calliope/Cal – each discovers and struggles with love and all its burdens, whether it is love of family, love of self, or love of neighbor. In addition, Mr. Eugenides discusses certain taboos with honesty, integrity, and sincerity, taking the “ick” factor out of the taboo itself.

One of the many lessons in Middlesex is the idea that life is ultimately about the impact of others on an individual’s life. At so many times throughout the novel, one small change in one tiny detail could have ended with a completely different result for Callie. Desdemona or Lefty marrying someone else, Milton or Tessie marrying someone else, a doctor with greater observation skills – one change and the entire story would be different.

“The timing of the thing had to be just so in order for me to become the person I am. Delay the act by an hour and you change the gene selection” (p. 11)

Is it fate that Callie would one day become Cal or chance? How can one tell? What does this mean for other individuals?

The way the story is structured, the reader knows about Callie’s plight before Mr. Eugenides presents it in all its glory. This juxtaposition between Cal’s present and Callie’s past is both fascinating, reassuring and quite telling. The reader knows that Cal makes the adjustment he needed to make to thrive in society as a man, yet the reader also knows that Callie will be forced to make difficult decisions. The reader knows what is going to happen and fervently wishes that she or he could step in and prevent Callie’s pain. No where is this emotional involvement more prevalent than when Callie discusses her relationship for the Object. Her love for the Object is beautiful, erotic and painfully poignant because the confusion and pain Callie feels is so unnecessary if only one person had changed their course of action. Yet, it is Callie’s love that spurs the more dramatic moments and her ultimate decision. Again, is it fate or is it chance?

The narrator, Kristoffer Tabori, did an excellent job of bringing the Stephanides clan to life. His personifications of Desdemona chiding Lefty had me in tears with laughter. His personification of Milton and his relationship with Callie made me reminiscent of my own relationship with my father. As Cal, he becomes a friend, someone I want to protect and help find happiness and acceptance. In essence, Mr. Tabori made the audiobook. I highly doubt I would have had the same reactions or the same emotional connection without Mr. Tabori’s narration.

That being said, Middlesex is still an extremely powerful novel that requires no narration for full impact. Mr. Eugenides uses each word brilliantly to create maximum emotional impact within each reader. Simultaneously, his blend of history with its personal connections creates a sense of legitimacy that blurs the line between fact and fiction. The end result is a novel in which the reader is completely absorbed and emotionally involved with a family that is incredibly realistic while being larger than life. Yet, the reader is a better person for having spent time with Desdemona and Lefty, with Milt and Tessie, with Father Mike and Zoe, and especially with Cal. Theirs is a story that truly transcends time.

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