Wow, guys. Middlesex. There is so much to discuss in this book — even just the first half — that I hardly know where to begin. How about with a spoiler warning? They’re fair game here, so if you don’t like them, best to skip this post!
For the wrap-up post in two weeks, I’ll focus more on facts and such, but for today, I want to gush a bit, and to share my impressions.
I went into Middlesex knowing more about the novel’s premise than I usually do. No way, though, could I have imagined the intricate story, the entrancing writing, the feeling of destiny unfurling that saturates this novel. I am listening to it on audio, and I am about half way finished (the family just moved to Middlesex). That’s only 9 or so discs, which, really, isn’t that long. But I feel like I’ve spent forever with Cal, known this charismatic, eloquent, intriguing person my whole life.
It’s less like I’m hearing a summary of someone’s life and more like I’ve lived through it all. I am blown away by all the things Jeffrey Eugenides has accomplished in Middlesex. I love Cal’s voice, the interplay between past and present, the exploration of one family’s immigrant experience, the elaborate family history and the way Eugenides has woven the recessive gene’s own lineage into it.
One aspect of Middlesex in particular that fascinates me is Eugenides’ treatment of Detroit. In many ways, the novel feels as much like a history of the city as it does the story of the Stephanides family. From the heyday of the auto manufacturers to the race riots (so far), Eugenides’ vivid portrait of a city I’m used to thinking of as declining has captivated my attention. I’ve heard people talk about how wonderful the descriptions of Detroit are in Middlesex are, but now I feel like I know what they mean. I’ve also been enjoying how the advancing years are reflected in the Stephanides family’s lifestyle: cars, clothing, hobbies, and so forth. It’s been giving me a history lesson in the best sort of way.
I worried at first about how I’d react to Cal knowing so many things he could not possibly have known — precise details about Desdemona and Lefty, for instance, when they were young. It’s rare I can get comfortable with that sort of narration. Turns out in this case I’m not bothered at all. There’s a sort of mythic quality to the story, I think, so that I find myself just accepting Cal’s extensive knowledge as part of the package. At the same time, somewhat paradoxically, perhaps, I keep forgetting I’m reading a novel!
The audiobook is phenomenal. Several bloggers urged me to go the audio route even though I own a print copy of the book, and I am so glad I listened to their advice. Kristoffer Tabori, the narrator, has the pacing and dramatics down pat. His reading style matches Eugenides’ writing to create that rare alchemy in which a main character absolutely leaps off the page. It’s so easy to become completely absorbed. A bonus is that I don’t have to stumble over the foreign names! The only weird thing to me is the music in the recording. I think it was well chosen, and it would not bother me if I could figure out what it signifies! It doesn’t denote chapter or CD breaks but seems to come in the middle of thoughts or stories. My only guess is that Middlesex was on cassette before it made it to CD and that the music corresponds to the end of each side. I know several of you went the audio route this time around as well and am curious to hear how it’s going for you.
I feel that I am rambling. I’ll turn it over to you: if you’re reading or have read Middlesex, what are your thoughts? What would you like to discuss? Let’s converse in the comments!