What I’ve been reading lately: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

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I recently picked up Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and I can’t stop thinking about it. Seriously, I missed my train stop the other day because I was witnessing the great fire of Smyrna in 1922. Have you read it? I’m sure you have, seeing as it’s been out since 2002 and it won a Pulitzer. I’m way behind the times on this one as it only just popped up on my radar. I have a philosophy about books that’s a little kooky, but I’m convinced of it nonetheless: the reader doesn’t choose the book; the book chooses the reader. When we’re good and ready for them, the right book comes knocking. It’s the only way I’ll ever understand why I can have a stack of ten books on my nightstand, all of which I’m looking forward to reading, but of all of them, I choose this unsuspecting black and white one that I picked up at a used bookshop.

Middlesex is about a hermaphrodite, Calliope (or, Cal), but only in the sense that s/he’s the one narrating the story. It’s actually a story about family, love, secrets, storytelling, and growing into the awkward shoes our family and society has made for us. The real pleasure of this book, though, is engaging with Cal, who is one of the most distinct and lifelike characters from fiction I’ve encountered in a while. Such wit. Such intelligence. Such fatalism.

Spanning war-torn Asian Minor in 1922, prohibition-era Detroit, and the Detroit race riots of ’67, these are just a few of the images I’ve been seeing while reading Cal’s story.

the Greek flag as it would have waved over a shipload of Greek and Armenian refugees / newly married Greek immigrants circa 1922 / Greek worry beads (the characters have a lot to worry about) / Eugenides’ plentiful allusions to Greek mythology makes me wish I’d brought my copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology to Decatur / a fascinating chapter from American prohibition history, when Detroit rum-runners used the Detroit River to smuggle liquor over the Canadian border, often at their own peril. 

 

 

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