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Middlesex: A Novel
by Jeffrey Eugenides

Published: 2002-06-05
Paperback : 544 pages
128 members reading this now
146 clubs reading this now
116 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 16 of 24 members

"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 driver's ...

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Introduction

Spanning eight decades, Eugenides's long-awaited second novel is a grand, utterly original fable of crossed bloodlines, the intricacies of gender, and the deep, untidy promptings of desire. Eugenides was named one of America's best young novelists by both "Granta" and "The New Yorker."

Editorial Review

"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." And so begins Middlesex, the mesmerizing saga of a near-mythic Greek American family and the "roller-coaster ride of a single gene through time." The odd but utterly believable story of Cal Stephanides, and how this 41-year-old hermaphrodite was raised as Calliope, is at the tender heart of this long-awaited second novel from Jeffrey Eugenides, whose elegant and haunting 1993 debut, The Virgin Suicides, remains one of the finest first novels of recent memory.

Eugenides weaves together a kaleidoscopic narrative spanning 80 years of a stained family history, from a fateful incestuous union in a small town in early 1920s Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit; from the early days of Ford Motors to the heated 1967 race riots; from the tony suburbs of Grosse Pointe and a confusing, aching adolescent love story to modern-day Berlin. Eugenides's command of the narrative is astonishing. He balances Cal/Callie's shifting voices convincingly, spinning this strange and often unsettling story with intelligence, insight, and generous amounts of humor:

Emotions, in my experience aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." … I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic traincar constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." ... I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever.

When you get to the end of this splendorous book, when you suddenly realize that after hundreds of pages you have only a few more left to turn over, you'll experience a quick pang of regret knowing that your time with Cal is coming to a close, and you may even resist finishing it--putting it aside for an hour or two, or maybe overnight--just so that this wondrous, magical novel might never end. --Brad Thomas Parsons

Excerpt

The Silver Spoon

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. Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce's study, "Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites," published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology in 1975. Or maybe you've seen my photograph in chapter sixteen of the now sadly outdated Genetics and Heredity. That's me on page 578, standing naked beside a height chart with a black box covering my eyes. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

Questions from the Publisher's Reading Guide:

1. Describing his own conception, Cal writes: “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 Cal’s condition a result of
chance or of fate? Which of these forces governs the world as Cal sees it?

2. Middlesex begins just before Cal’s birth in 1960, then moves backward in
time to 1922. Cal is born at the beginning of Part 3, about halfway through
the novel. Why did the author choose to structure the story in this way? How
does this movement backward and forward in time reflect the larger themes
of the work?

3. When Tessie and Milton decide to try to influence the sex of their baby,
Desdemona disapproves. “God decides what baby is,” she says. “Not you” (p.
13). What happens when characters in the novel challenge fate?

4. “To be honest, the amusement grounds should be closed at this hour, but,
for my own purposes, tonight Electric Park is open all night, and the fog
suddenly lifts, all so that my grandfather can look out the window and see a
roller coaster streaking down the track. A moment of cheap symbolism only,
and then I have to bow to the strict rules of realism, which is to say: they
can’t see a thing” (pp. 110–11). Occasionally, Cal interrupts his own narrative,
calling attention to himself and the artifice inherent in his story. What
purpose do these interruptions serve? Is Cal a reliable narrator?

5. “I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered
my story, I need them more than ever,” Cal writes (p. 217). How does
Cal narrate the events that take place before his birth? Does his perspective
as a narrator change when he is recounting events that take place after he is
born?

6. “All I know is this: despite my androgenized brain, there’s an innate feminine
circularity in the story I have to tell” (p. 20). What does Cal mean by
this? Is his manner of telling his story connected to the question of his gender?
How?

7. How are Cal’s early sexual experiences similar to those of any adolescent?
How are they different? Are the differences more significant than the similarities?


8. Why does Cal decide to live as a man rather than as a woman?

9. How does Cal’s experience reflect on the “nature vs. nurture” debate
about gender identity?

10. Who is Jimmy Zizmo? How does he influence the course of events in the
novel?

11. What is Dr. Luce’s role in the novel? Would you describe him as a villain?

12. Calliope is the name of the classical Greek muse of eloquence and epic
poetry. What elements of Greek mythology figure in Cal’s story? Is this
novel meant to be a new “myth”?

13. How is Cal’s experience living within two genders similar to the immigrant
experience of living within two cultures? How is it different?

14. Middlesex is set against the backdrop of several historical events: the war
between Greece and Turkey, the rise of the Nation of Islam, World War II,
and the Detroit riots. How does history shape the lives of the characters in
the novel?

15. What does America represent for Desdemona? For Milton? For Cal? To
what extent do you think these characters’ different visions of America correspond
to their status as first-, second-, and third-generation Greek Americans?

Suggested by Members

It would have been much easier for Cal/Callie to have had the operation and continued on as a woman in my opinion.
Was the decision to live as a man an act of bravery on Cal/Callie's part?
Did Cal/Callie have a choice? Was nature's call too strong? Did nurture enter into Cal/Callie's decision at all?
by fernandezjavier007@gmail.com (see profile) 09/23/16

Sexuality
Medicine's Role Then and Now
Immigration and Prejudice
by Joeyann89 (see profile) 02/09/16

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

no
by lizhomme@aol.com (see profile) 07/13/16
Movie Ties!
by Joeyann89 (see profile) 02/09/16
Our book club leader has us cast the characters of the book for a movie version.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by sarah.e.battle@gmail.com (see profile) 06/07/17

 
  "Middlesex"by PeggySue64 (see profile) 01/25/17

Our book club found the book tried to cover too much information and yet left out a lot of Cal's story after his transition. Less than 50% would recommend to a friend. The discussion, however, was more... (read more)

 
by fernandezjavier007@gmail.com (see profile) 09/23/16

Wild journey down Mount Olympus, across the Atlantic, to the ups and down of 20th century Detroit. I truly enjoyed the ride!

 
  "Middlesex"by lizhomme@aol.com (see profile) 07/13/16

This was one of the stupidest books I ever read. The whole background was ridiculous.

 
by jkryshka (see profile) 02/26/16

 
by Cherypit (see profile) 02/25/16

 
  "Surprising on many levels!"by Joeyann89 (see profile) 02/09/16

The book was beautifully written! For me, it was a story about immigration and ancestry as much as how we deal with knowing how a person deals with being different based on genetic anomalies. I read the... (read more)

 
  "Middlesex: A Novel"by Leona (see profile) 09/21/15

A beautifully written novel. Very well developed characters, compelling story, and imaginative telling of the subject matter. I loved the often comic voice of the main character, Callie/Cal. This book... (read more)

 
by robba (see profile) 11/20/14

 
  "Middlesex: A Novel"by DexterIsMyHero (see profile) 10/04/14

This is an adventure like you have never read before. It is odd and exhilarating and I could not. put. it. down. Mesmerizing. Extremely well written. Don't be afraid of the subject matter. Epic, sweeping... (read more)

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