Everyone struggles against despair, but it always wins in the end. It has to. It’s the thing that lets us say goodbye.
–Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
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This is one of my absolute favorite novels, and one of the books that I have rated 5/5 stars on Goodreads. So, please prepare for all the praise.
AUTHOR: Jeffrey Eugenides
GENRE: Realistic Fiction
WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: school library
RATING: 5/5 stars
SUMMARY: This is the story of Cal Stephanides, and his journey of self discovery throughout his childhood and most of his adult life. His story parallels the stories of his grandparents and his own parents, each generation’s mistakes resulting in his own unique and challenging genetic condition- so that he transforms from Calliope Stephanides to Cal Stephanides. This is a novel about immigration, about gender, about identity, about romance, and about other topics that are hard to breach- this is truly, though, a novel about American culture and how many different identities can often occupy the same person.
THOUGHTS: So first of all, Eugenides’ writing is brilliant. As a literature nerd who loves nothing more than the pull of good, efficient prose, Eugenides’ writing is like several breaths of fresh air. Not only is his diction skillful, but the figurative language that he employs, such as parallelism and metaphors, could have been all for show but it only helped and supported the plot line that he was conveying.
I also loved how this was a multigenerational story but also very modern at the same time- the Greek immigrants that struggled against several of the issues that face past and modern immigrants alike in America, the parents that struggle with an unorthodox, budding relationship, and the second-generation child that shuns certain parts of their home culture out of a lack of appreciation for it, in favor for more modern, Americanized traditions. There are also many eras covered through the novel in this way- the racially charged riots of the 1960s, the booms of Detroit when it was the ultimate manufacturer of the Rust Belt, and the complexities and challenges that come with the present day.
There is also a rich variety of characters throughout the story besides the Stephanides family; there are the characters that are exhibitionists in San Francisco with ambiguous sexualities and gender identities, the girls that Callie grew up with during her school years, and the many other figures that are recognizable to those who know their contemporary American history also populate the world of this novel. These characters are all beautifully developed, complex, realistic, and completely sympathetic. There are many themes of childhood and adolescence explored, through Callie’s own adolescent experiences, and there are many subjects of adulthood that are breached. Some of these issues were brought together seamlessly, especially though the protagonist who is telling this story as a middle-aged man, breaking the barriers between those issues that strongly identify with youth and with grown-ups: questions of identity and feeling comfortable in one’s skin are not necessarily issues that disappear with age, even though that can often be people’s instinctive conclusion.
I cannot even think of a criticism for this book, and I can be quite the picky reader, but hey, there’s a reason that this novel won the Pulitzer and is proudly listed as a book in Oprah’s book club, right? It’s hard for me to imagine the kind of reader who would not enjoy this story, except maybe those who are only dedicated to certain specific genres, so stop reading this review and just go read the book instead!