I grew up with whispered mentions of The Virgin Suicides – the movie, obviously. It was a movie that my best friend at the time was obsessed with (we were 11 or 12?) and it seemed like I was the only person in my class that hadn’t seen it. My Euro Mom would never have let me watch a movie with such ‘mature’ themes.
And thus we arrive at the ripe old age of 26 never having read any Jeffrey Eugenides. A crime. I still haven’t read The Virgin Suicides but I have now managed to knock Middlesex off my list after being introduced to Eugenides’ brilliance through The Marriage Plot.
Middlesex is his Pulitzer Prize winning work, the kind of story that stays with you always. Cal, or Calliope depending on where you are in the novel, is one of the most interesting, unique and brutally completely vulnerable (I hate using that word, it feels like it only belongs on The Bachelor) narrators I’ve come across.
I know I’m late to the Middlesex party but in the interest of those others that are in the same boat, let’s summarize.
The novel begins:
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.
We follow Cal’s omniscient view of the beginning of his life and then we go all the way back, to trace the origin of those cells that caused him to be different. We follow his grandparents as they flee Greece in the wake of Turkish invaders, watch Smyrna burn and as they make their way to America. We’re there with Cal through those early years, the childhood and adolescence of both of his parents and finally we find out what makes Cal different.
The whole time we are looking backwards, we see where Cal is now. That he’s ok after it all. And that’s reassuring when you consider where he started.
I don’t even know why I am attempting to summarize this amazing book. My words will never do it justice. By the end of it, I was sitting up in bed, wrapped in my duvet heartbroken and hopeful, crying and smiling and completely absorbed by this one story. That’s what the great stories do – make you forget about everything else.
Just read it.