Eight years have passed since Jeffrey Eugenides won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (as well as too many other accolades to list) for this, his second novel, and nine years since it was first published. Nine years later (pattern forming here? – his debut The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex are also nine years apart), Eugenides’ longingly anticipated, much buzzed-about third, The Marriage Plot, is about to hit shelves in a couple of weeks (official pub date: October 11), and that anticipation is probably what finally prompted me to pick up Middlesex. The pressure, the pressure!
Clearly Middlesex holds one of fiction’s most memorable opening lines: “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”
At 41, Calliope Helen Stephanides by birth certificate is now simply Cal according to his current (German) driver’s license. But even before Cal’s inception, the family saga spans 250 prior years, complete with chromosomal mutations, fifth cousins who are also siblings, triple migrations (from Greece to Turkey to the United States), multiple wars and other conflagrations, and various saints and avid sinners who all play an active role in his creation, and his undefinable, unpredictable life. Cal’s own epic self-discovery, intricately interwoven through his ancestral tale, is a complex … dare I say … transformative journey.
Eugenides’ playful, seemingly effortless invention belies his fearsome erudition. Absolutely, without a doubt, Middlesex is not to be missed … and, as in my case, truly an enormously rewarding better-late-than-never read.