Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex


Eugenides, J. (2002). Middlesex. New York: Picador. 9780312422158

I actually read this book in Summer 2007 whilst between semesters in grad school. It was Oprah’s pick at the time and I read it at warp speed. Unfortunately, I never reviewed the book. Seeing a copy of Middlesex for sale by the Friends of Freeman (HCPL), I bought it. I took a more leisurely pace began rereading it after Christmas 2010.

Cal Stephanides, a forty-one year old who identifies himself as a man, climbs his gnarly family tree. He possesses a recessive gene, 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, which made him appear female at the time of his birth. Believing him to be a girl, his parents named their “daughter” Calliope and called her “Callie”. After learning about the syndrome as an adolescent, Calliope changes his name to the masculine name, Cal. Taking on his Greek-American genealogy, Cal tells the story of a dirty little secret of his grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty, which shapes Calliope into Cal.

Upon hearing Oprah selected a book about hermaphrodite, I didn’t imagine myself reading this book. Yet, summer doldrums beset me and I stayed up several nights in a row reading Middlesex. The language Eugenides implements relates this story in a beautifully visual way. He crammed so much between the covers. Throughout, I learned more of the Smyrna fire, Prohibition-Era Detroit, the Nation of Islam, and the Pleasant Valley of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Eugenides encapsulates much of the contemporary life of Cal in Foreign Service Berlin as well. I enjoyed the mysteries he creates in his brother Chapter Eleven and catalyst The Obscure Object. I laughed at Desdemona’s work for the Nation of Islam and Aunt Lina’s droll tones. Above all else, I considered the sex versus gender argument in a fresh light.

Four and a Half Out of Five Pearls

Song: “Dancing in the Streets” by Martha & the Vandellas

Places: Mt. Olympus, Smyrna, Turkey, Greece, New York City, Detroit, San Francisco, Germany

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With Middlesex being The Detroit Novel, I must link the following Super Bowl Ad:

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Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin


Cover of the novel

Cover of the novel

*1001 Books Book (2006)

Atwood, M. (2000). The blind assassin. New York: N.A. Talese.

With as much as I have read about Margaret Atwood, it has taken a surprisingly long time for me to read any of her works. This and the intriguing book cover encouraged me to read The Blind Assassin.

Many reviews describe The Blind Assassin as being like a Russian nesting doll; a story within a story that is within yet another story. It is definitely like peeling an onion, reading The Blind Assassin. The novel weaves between various plot lines. However, I do promise that it is rather like a fractal and that are worthwhile. After all, it takes all the pieces to form the picture of The Blind Assassin. Atwood managed to integrate elements of Southern Ontario Gothic, Historical Fiction (1900s, 1930s, 1940s, etc), Mystery, Character Study, and Science Fiction into one slow burn of a novel.

The story begins with young wife Iris Chase Griffen saying, “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge” (Atwood, 1). With sparse detail about this event, the reader is next taken to a report of Laura Chase’s death. Beyond this point, there are more news reports on deaths, including that of Iris’ powerful industrialist husband’s body being found a boat in 1947. This is where the reader discovers a book by Laura Chase was posthumously published. After the articles, the reader is taken headlong into to Laura’s work “The Blind Assassin.” “The Blind Assassin” tells the story of a pulp fiction writer and his girlfriend, a young unhappy wife. The pulp fiction writer makes up a story for his lover, also called “The Blind Assassin.” Beyond this point is yet another narrative, it is that of the aged, chilly Iris of eighty-two years of age in 1999.

Iris’ somewhat embittered voice dominates the novel. Through her scope, I found Iris to be a survivor. The unusual and delicate well-being of Laura brings much responsibility to Iris. On the one hand, it seems Iris is cold and careless with her fragile little sister. Otherwise, I find it unfair how Iris was made to take care of Laura simply because no one else did. Whether it is Iris’ nature or it is her upbringing is obviously debatable. Nonetheless, her biting wit and edge make her easily identifiable and sympathetic to me.

I am proud to say that I read this book. The coldness and cruelty of several characters within gave me chills and some weird dreams. Imagining this wicked glint of some characters that shall remain nameless made me sad. Atwood is definitely a master of her craft and I could see her characters and situations all too well. The Blind Assassin is well written but not exactly what I call an enjoyable read.

Three out of Five Pearls

PS (September 02, 2008) When I found out this had been removed from the 1001 Books List, I could have kicked Boxall and myself in one fell swoop. Ugh!

Places: Port Ticonderoga, Canada; Toronto, Canada; Europe; New York, NewYork


In the Grips of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro | LibraryThing

* 1001 Books Book (2006)

Ishiguro, K. (2005). Never let me go. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 9781400043392

Going in reverse chronological order, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is Number 1 on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Finding it on the shelf at the library where I work, I pulled the book, started reading, and found myself in Chapter 2 by the end of lunch. Ishiguro, born in Japan, moved to England with his family at the age of five. I read somewhere Kazuo Ishiguro was the only one in his family who spoke English. I felt his isolation in Never Let Me Go. The author has written numerous novels, including The Remains of the Day.

Never Let Me Go begins with the introduction of the narrator, thirty-one year old Kathy H. She has been a carer for eleven years. Carers watch over donors and Kathy takes pride easing the burdens of her charges. Kathy H. lives in her native England sometime in the late 1990s. She grew up at the prestigious Hailsham boarding school. Hailsham almost seems idyllic in it’s nurturing the learning and creativity of its students. Hailsham also placed an emphasis on poetry and art.

Two of Kathy’s closest friends from Hailsham were Tommy and Ruth. Eventually, Tommy and Ruth become donors and Kathy becomes the carer for both. Together, they ponder what Hailsham is all about and their place in the equation. However, when they uncover the answers, they do not solve the problem.

The title, Never Let Me Go, comes from a song by fictitious American singer Judy Bridgewater. In the song, Bridgewater expresses how she does not want to be separated from the one she loves. Kathy also does not want to be “let go.”

This novel is what one of my professors would have called a Platonic novel. Like “Allegory of the Cave,” the characters and the reader learn things that alter them and things they cannot unlearn. It took me sometime to shake how the book made me feel. If nothing else, this book is provocative. While numerous book reviews and Wikipedia tell you what happens, I will let you find out for yourself. However, I will say it made me very sad.

At first, I wondered why kids like Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy didn’t ever hear from their families. In addition, I questioned the definitions of “carer” and “donor.” I had all sorts of theories from museum employees to school endowment workers. Ultimately, Ishiguro pulled the rug out from under all of us when we found the true nature of the students’ “uniqueness.”

Yet, when the reader discovers why Hailsham exists, there is no fight or flight attempted by Kathy, Ruth, or Tommy. I would have liked to have seen Kathy attempt at least one of these things. Since she did not, I was very disappointed. By the end of the book, I did not feel she had or would gain any peace, either.

Based purely on the questions this book raises, I give it three and a half out of five pearls. On the end of the book, I give it one and a half pearls.

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