Teach Me To Grieve And Conspire With My Age

I’m going to kick off my Saturday Book Club posts with a review I wrote last year.  Is it lazy to recycle a post I made in my LiveJournal?  Well, yeah.  However, I really want to share some of these books with any readers I may have on this blog … And obviously the best reviews are written when the book is still fresh in your mind.

I’ll be starting with one of the better books I read last year.  This isn’t one of my top favorites from the year, but it’s a book I’m happy to recommend to others.  I think it’s a good start to the Saturday Book Club.  

I have rated all of the books I’ve previously reviewed (and will be rating any books I review in the future) based on the Netflix rating system.  For those unfamiliar with this system:

One star = Hated it

Two stars = Didn’t like it

Three stars = Liked it

Four stars = Really liked it

Five stars = Loved it

This is a very simple, straightforward rating system … Perfect for a blog like this.

Now, on to the review!

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Image courtesy of npr.org.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

529 pages

I will start by saying that I wanted to read this book for quite a while, but for some reason never got around to it.  I ended up adding it to my collection after a trip to Half Price Books with Eric for my birthday in 2011.

When people ask me what the book is about, I give a somewhat vague response: “It’s about a hermaphrodite and the things that happened in his family’s history that led him to be a hermaphrodite.” That’s putting it in very simple terms. I mean, that is essentially what it’s about … But there’s so much more to it. 

The story follows several generations of the Stephanides family, beginning in a small Greek village near Turkey and moving through New York City, Detroit, and San Francisco (for a shorter period of the novel). Each chapter also begins with the narrator giving brief accounts from his current life in Germany. The narrator is Cal Stephanides (formerly Calliope Stephanides), the aforementioned hermaphrodite. There is a lot of foreshadowing in the beginning of each chapter, which worked really well for this particular novel. 

Middlesex is a work of fiction written as though it were a memoir. Cal is an engaging narrator, though occasionally I would get annoyed because he spoke as if he knew all of the thoughts, emotions, actions, etc. of every character (including things that happened before his birth or while he was away from said character). I think as readers we’re supposed to believe that he learns these things from members of his family as he tries to put all of the pieces together in order to write a complete and coherent memoir … But some things were just completely unbelievable as there was no way he (or anyone else he could have spoken to) could have known what exactly was going on in that person’s head.

My only other complaint about the novel is that readers don’t get to really know Cal at all until about 200 – 250 pages in. Again, he does pop up at the beginning of every chapter with a brief look into his present life, but he tells us all about his grandparents (brother and sister AND husband and wife) and then his parents (cousins) and then finally his birth and beginnings as a little girl named Calliope. The portions of the book devoted to the lives of earlier generations of Stephanides were incredibly interesting and made me want to continue reading … It’s just that I generally like to get to know a main character throughout the course of a novel. I guess it worked, given the way the book was written (and the reasoning for following the lives of earlier generations), but I still felt somewhat cheated … I wanted to know more about Cal from the beginning.

All in all, Middlesex was a great read. Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely. Jeffrey Eugenides is an excellent writer. In 529 pages, I was never bored. His descriptions were wonderful, his conversations realistic. The novel shifted between humorous and heartbreaking, which is what one might expect from a memoir (or a novel masquerading as a memoir). Sure, Cal’s life is much more dramatic than your average person, but that’s to be expected. For one, he’s a hermaphrodite who was raised as a female for the first 14 years of his life. In addition, no one would want to read a memoir (or a novel written as a memoir) written by someone who led a very normal life filled with the boring everyday activities we all take part in (“I woke up. It was Tuesday, and I had to be at work in an hour. I took a shower, brushed my teeth, and put on my clothes. I would have a cup of coffee at work.” I mean, really … Who would read something like that?). 

I will probably reread this book at some point in the future.  If anyone reads this post and is looking for a good book to pick up, please consider Middlesex. If nothing else, it will introduce you to different worlds (a small Greek village in the 1920’s, Detroit during the race riots, life through the eyes of a hermaphrodite, and so on).

I give Middlesex FOUR STARS.

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