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DOWNEY – “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides focuses on the confusing life of narrator, Calliope “Cal”, and of the past generations of the Stephanides family, telling how their mistakes successfully followed them and eventually came to life in the form of a hermaphrodite.
Eugenides begins his account of Calliope’s, or Cal’s, life and history by switching between his present and past-a past that trails all the way back to his traditional but not so conventional grandmother, Desdemona Stephanides. It was the marriage of his grandparents, who are not just siblings but also third cousins, making it legal for marriage and therefore acceptable in Calliope’s grandfather’s eyes, that added to the already corrupted gene pool of the Stephanides family. This same pool carried on through the family more successfully than their Greek culture, having traveled overseas and later coming to life in America when it spilled over into Calliope’s life, changing her from a beautiful little girl to a boy at age 14. It is Eugenides’ account of Cal’s present that we see the ultimate result: an apparently attractive man named Cal at age 41 who is currently suffering from dating issues and gives off a positive on a woman’s “gay radar”.
The reader follows the Stephanides family history until a baby girl is born on January of 1960, proving Desdemona’s traditional and accurate way of telling the sex of a newborn utterly wrong for Calliope in 1960. The grandmother’s old method of hanging a silver spoon over a woman’s pregnant belly, however, is later shown to be absolutely correct in 1974 when Cal immerges.
The marriage between Cal’s grandparents and even his own mother and father, who are cousins having been brought together by a singing flute-the only object of romance in their relationship, according to Cal’s father-has led to one person who will forever be extraordinary and who will continue to live with the consequences of being such: Calliope “Cal” Helen Stephanides.
“Middlesex” cannot simply be called “different”. It is a novel that contains its own sphere for the bravest of readers who remain open in thought and mind, and are eager to learn about just what else is out there. It leaps out in directions that are both unconventional and very much controversial, twisting the emotions and thoughts of its reader. Yet the novel is also filled to the brim with bits and pieces of information and history. Through “Middlesex”, the reader feels, thinks, and ultimately learns from Calliope “Cal”. Perhaps this is why it’s been an international bestseller since its release in 2002 and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Perhaps it is because once you have read it, the thought innovation that “Middlesex” brings about and the education it offers to its readers can never once again be forgotten.
Published: July 1, 2010 – Volume 9 – Issue 11