Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Welcome, Reading Buddies! Two things before we jump into Middlesex:

  1. If you haven’t voted for December’s book yet, there’s still time to do so! The poll is over in my sidebar.
  2. We’re reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins in November! My copy is on its way to my library as we speak. I’ll post my discussion on November 18th and the wrap-up on December 2nd.

If you’re just stopping by and haven’t read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides yet, just be warned that spoilers are fair game here. Missed the discussion post? It’s here.

I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to say for this Middlesex wrap-up ever since I finished the audiobook a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t been able to think of anything that hasn’t already been said. I keep finding myself going back to completely inadequate phrases like “Wow!” and “I loved it!” — lame! And then I read this amazing recipe/review by Jenners and Sandy (seriously…amazing…go read it!) and felt extra tongue- (finger-?) tied. And so I’m taking a different approach.

I found a 2003 interview with Jeffrey Eugenides in 3:amMagazine’s online archives that I found really interesting to read. It’s quite long and in-depth, so I chose a couple of bits to share here and encourage you to check out the full article if you’re interested.

I always like to hear about authors’ processes and inspirations, so I’ll start with Eugenides’ explanation of where the idea for Middlesex came from:

Middlesex grew from my first idea, which was to write, basically, the fictional memoir of a hermaphrodite… But, in contrast to the way hermaphrodites have appeared in literature — miserable creatures like Tiresias for instance — I wanted to write about a real person with a real condition. I did a lot of research on the details, but in terms of figuring out what hermaphrodites psychologically went through, I did that from my imagination… The hermaphroditic condition I finally chose, the 5-alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome, is the result of a recessive mutation that happens in isolated communities, usually. At that point I saw the possibility of bringing my own personal history in the book. So, the fictional memoir of a hermaphrodite became a family story and a historical story with a hermaphrodite narrator.”

This explanation prompted me to poke around on Wikipedia a bit to see which elements of Middlesex corresponded to Eugenides’ own life, and (at least according to this particular sometimes-reliable source) there were quite a few: author and character were born in the same year, moved to Middlesex Road following the Detroit riot, attended private schools, had Greek silkworm-farming ancestors, and moved to Berlin, among other things. I’m paraphrasing here, but there is a quote in the Wikipedia article originally from NPR in which Eugenides explains that weaving details from his own life into Middlesex helped him stay grounded while he explored other elements that differed greatly from his own experience.

3:am also asked Eugenides about the story just sort of stopping, which I only barely noticed. Eugenides says:

“It’s a story about metamorphosis and once the metamorphosis was complete, I figured the story was pretty much over. I do have the last chapters where Cal is writing as a male, and you get a certain amount of information of his life, you learn about his continuing romantic problems and his current love-affair. I thought that was sufficient enough for the reader to learn where Cal ended up.”

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (cover)Did you feel like Cal’s story was sufficiently concluded? I actually did. I was really sad when the novel was over, just because I loved getting to know Cal and experience Eugenides’ writing and Tabori’s narration (I listened to the audiobook), but I didn’t feel any ends were left dangling or that I had been cheated. The short interludes in present day Berlin gave me enough insight into where Cal ended up to satisfy my curiosity.

I said this last week but I will say it again: if you are thinking about reading (or rereading) Middlesex and you enjoy audiobooks, I cannot recommend this particular masterpiece highly enough. It is exquisite. I’m so glad I got talked into listening instead of reading! Also, thank you thank you to everyone who helped choose Middlesex for Reading Buddies. I’m very happy I finally read it! Now I’m just waiting for The Marriage Plot to come in at the library…

What would you like to talk about regarding Middlesex? Let’s discuss in the comments! And if you posted about Middlesex on your own blog, please feel free to link up so we can keep the discussion going.

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  1. I’m not a Reading Buddy but I thought I’d weigh in – I was surprised by how much I liked this novel. Unique and yet so, well, readable! Kind of an epic really. I read it a long time ago – before blogging. It deserves a reread at some point.

  2. Is there still time to sign up for The Woman in White read? I started it earlier this year and gave up on it but I really want to give it another try.

  3. I read this so long ago, but I found those excerpts that you included to be wonderful and they make me want to pick up my copy and read this one again. I liked this approach to your review. It was very cool! Glad to hear that you loved the book!

  4. I’m not big on conclusions wrapped up neatly with a little bow. I like the fact that things ended with a certain degree of uncertainty. I also thought this was a fantastic review.

  5. That was an interesting interview with Eugenides. I’ve just read The Marriage Plot and enjoyed it very much.

    I’ve already read The Woman in White but I’d like to join in the December readalong, whichever book is chosen.

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