It’s not enough to say that Middlesex “tells the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and the three generations of the Greek-American Stempahides family,” as the back cover begins. Yes, it does this, but this book also reveals more than just their story, it shows how much the present depends on the past and how the two forge connections so intertwined that one cannot even determine direct causation. Neither a coming-of-age tale nor a love story, Middlesex tells a coming-to-knowledge story, which requires that both Cal and the reader know the full story from the time when Desdemona and Lefty lived in the Old World, to his mother and father’s clarinet romance, to the house in Grosse Point, Michigan and all of the secrets along the way. Only once this knowledge has been achieved, can one fully understand the breathtaking story of Cal Stephanides.
Why should you read it?
The characters, Cal, Desdemona, Milton, they drive this book. It’s not action-packed like most of the movies being made today, though it is not without its car chases, riots, and teenage love scenes. This book will never be made into a movie because it’s a story about people, their lives, and their experiences. The narrator, Cal, toggles between “Homeric” lyrical prose and straightforwardness that falls somewhere between tragic and hilarious, “Sing now, O Muse, of the recessive mutation on my fifth chromosome!”
I can’t speak highly enough about this book. One thing that stands out about this book is the treatment of fate. Was Cal fated to exist way back since his grandparents married? Or by trying to control the outcome of the pregnancy, did his parents alter or confuse his destiny? Similarly, does being born with the particular visual characteristics of one sex destine a person to living their life as that gender? Or does the biological sex determine how a person feels gendered? This gets us straight to the nurture/nature debate, which I think I’ll try to avoid here. After all the emotional and physical distress that Calliope experienced in the course of these pages, the self-doubt and discomfort in her own skin, it seems that finding out the truth was really more important to his final re-birth than either nature or nurture.
While reading this sometimes-humorous, sometimes-heartbreaking story about a boy literally trapped in the wrong body-shell and his experiences of not quite fitting into society, one question that kept coming back to me was: what does it mean to feel like a boy or a girl? Maybe this seems silly, but it’s something that I think most people take for granted. If you’re not suffering from gender dysphoria, it’s likely that you’ve never had to think about this, either. Months after having read this book, I’m still not quite sure what I think it means to feel like a girl, even though I have “felt like a girl” my entire life. Does anyone have any insight on this topic? I’d love to hear it!
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What do you think about this style of post? I haven’t done anything like it before, so is it too dull? Too long? I know I need work on synopsizing. Is that a word? It should be. Feedback is always appreciated!