Sunday, February 2, 2014

Middlesex

Source: amazon.com
Where to start with Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides? I bought this book years ago because it was an Oprah Book Club pick (which can be hit or miss, but typically I like her picks). I picked it up this year because it fits both of my 2014 challenges - the Chunkster Challenge and the TBR Pile Challenge. Two birds with one stone - can't beat that reasoning.

Middlesex is the story of Calliope/Cal Stephanides, American born citizen of Greek immigrant grandparents. Cal highlights the past long before his birth...or her birth. The his and her pronouns are hard to keep straight because Calliope was born a girl, but later discovered to be a boy, then using the nickname Cal as his first name. (This is not a spoiler, it's on the book jacket and in opening of the story, I promise.) The first 200 pages of Cal's narrated ancestry read slowly for me. The ancestry is crucial to Cal's story and interesting enough, but for some reason just doesn't pick up in speed. However, once the story of Cal's grandparents' immigration and his parents' establishing a family passes, Calliope is born and the story takes off from there.

Cal narrates his childhood growing up as a girl, questioning if certain things happened because of the unknown genetic difference or just because. From the adored young daughter, to the preteen getting her lip waxed, to the teenager trying to figure out why puberty is treating her differently than other girls, Cal spells out the memories good and bad that have brought him to where he is - a man living a lonely life because he holds a secret that very few will understand and accept.

The book contains somewhat explicit scenes, but takes on a topic I've not read before in a book - hermaphroditism. Actually, I did not read any reviews, synopses, or the book cover before I began, so I was in for a surprise right away. Explicit scenes are one of those things I just don't know how some people will react, so I always give the disclaimer as a fair warning. Besides the explicit scenes, the slow 200 page opening is another thing that makes me a little hesitant to recommend Middlesex. Some people couldn't or wouldn't push through 200 pages to enjoy the last 344 pages, but overall the story was intriguing.

What's the most intriguing topic you've ever read in a book?

26 comments:

  1. Thanks! You didn't give away the whole plot but just enough to make me wnat to read it! I will check out some of your older blogs!

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    1. Good! It's a challenge with a bigger book to not give away too much! Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. If you liked the topic I can highly recommend The Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin. It's a slimmer book told from multiple view points and moves much more quickly.

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    1. That name sounds familiar. It would be interesting to see how another author would handle the subject.

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  3. You're quite right about the slow beginning and the explicit sex. I liked the book in spite of it though.

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    1. Yea, I can say I was invested in seeing where and how Cal ended up.

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  4. Proud of you for crossing two challenges off your list! This is one I've heard mixed things about -- and for the reasons you listed above.

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    1. Glad I've been consistent then! Thanks!

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  5. I’ve been wanting to read this book for years and really need to get around to finally doing it. It’s hailed as such an important book and I don’t want to miss out, even if it is explicit.

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    1. Oh definitely. It won't bother you I don't think. It didn't technically bother me, I just noticed it because there was more than the usual couple of scenes. And I figure if it stuck out, I should mention it.

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  6. I really enjoyed this book!!! Good review!

    Thank you for linking up to the Spread the Love Linky Party! Even though it's my last week of hosting, April @ The Steadfast Reader will be taking over, which is super exciting! More info to come. . . :D

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    1. Cool! I will be looking for the info!

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  7. I read this back in the day. I wish I could say that I remembered much of it, but I really don't. I do remember liking it though, lol.

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    1. That's what happens to me with most every book at some point. I can tell you how it made me feel and if I liked it or not.

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  8. I'm just so glad it's not just me that finds the opening unbearably slow. I've tried a couple of times and just couldn't do it, but I shall try again since this is on my TBR Challenge list.

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    1. That's why I kept going - it was on my challenge list and everyone insisted it was good. Even though the story does pick up, I'd still say it's an okay read for me...not great, not bad.

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  9. It's been a loooong time since I read this, but I remember really liking it. The explicit scenes though, it's hard to know how someone is going to react to those, you know? I'm careful about who I recommend this to.

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    1. Exactly, which is why I mentioned it in the review. It was more scenes than typical.

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  10. Such an intriguing book, I also found it completely heartbreaking. But I preferred Eugenides' The Marriage Plot over all.

    I have no idea what the most intriguing book I've ever read is. I'm going to be thinking about this all day!

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    1. I liked his writing, so I would read another of his books.

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  11. I thought the opening was really slow, too. It's a great book, but the backstory dragged. I thought it was really interesting to read about hermaphroditism; it's not a perspective you come across every day!

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    1. True, you learned about a topic you don't hear much about, which is always a good thing.

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  12. Loved the book, such a unique offering.

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    1. It was definitely unique. I can't say I've read anything like it - on the topic and otherwise.

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  13. I think the last comment - about the book's unique quality, is the book's best defense for it's "slow opening." I also read the book quite a long time ago, but found it really stunning. While I can't argue the content of the opening, I can't now (and couldn't then) think of it as "slow." Does it lack action and fast-paced storytelling? Yes, but, to me, that is style, not fault. I think a story rooted in the history of the family needs to TELL that history, and, well, history is slow. There is an awful lot of detail in that opening, without which the last parts of the book, Cal's life, would be diminished. I'm not criticizing those who prefer a fast-paced book, but what I am saying is that I thought this book was brilliant. First, for tackling a subject no one else had at the time, and second, for giving us such incredible detail to back up Cal's story and create his/her world. Sometimes, like most of the commentators, I need a fast-paced story, and, at those times, Middlesex would not be for me. But Middlesex is brilliant not just for the uniqueness of its subject matter, but for the depth and clarity of the world that Cal inhabits. Developing a world so full and so fully occupied requires time. I didn't find it hard to get through - I found myself occupying Cal's life. Granted, other works by this author are faster. But, to my mind, faster is not always better.

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    1. That's a good explanation for it. Cause all of the grandparents' backstory was really interesting and much needed for the rest of the story. I just found it odd how half the book read slower than the other half, but I found them both interesting pieces.

      This is the first book I've read by this author too, so I didn't know if that made a difference. Thank you for the thoughtful response!

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