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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Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao


Book Cover

Book Cover

Díaz, J. (2007). The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao. New York: Riverhead Books.

All the Pulitzer buzz proved irresistible. Then, I saw Díaz on CBS Sunday Morning and in Criticás. Initially, I liked hearing and reading that there was another writer out there grateful to libraries and librarians.  Learning that Oscar Wao was actually a mispronunciation of Oscar Wilde and that the characters were from part of the Dominican diaspora increased my interest.

My fascination with the D. R., a place narrator/watcher Yunior “Yuni” de las Casas describes as being very “sci-fi,”  stems from Dominican American writer Julia Àlvarez. Àlvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies was even referenced in one of the many footnotes in this book. My mom requested the book and I read it in a week.

Oscar is a sad, obese New Jersey “ghetto nerd” (Díaz, Chapter One) of Dominican descent. He voraciously consumes all the Sci-Fi the Paterson, NJ libraries can offer; they and his sister Lola are the only ones who do not reject him. Instead of being in Middle Earth, he must do his best in the real world. However, he and his family seem doggedly ill-fated, being heavily pursued by an old Dominican curse of “fuku.” Fuku haunts Oscar’s family since his erudite grandfather said the wrong things about the D.R.’s former despot, Trujillo. Yet, the romantic temperament of Oscar does not keep him from avoiding the grips of “fuku.”

Immediately, I liked the authentic characters and the believable depictions as given mostly by our watcher, the womanizing Yuni. I also felt as though I experienced the true life of the first generation in the US through Oscar, Lola, and Yuni.

I had a love/hate relationship with the Spanglish of this novel. My limited understanding of Spanish drove me to my language dictionary often.  Nevertheless, it made  Yuni and the rest of the characters completely real. By the end of the book, I was convinced I could meet up with some of the characters. Another love/hate relationship derived from the multitude of footnotes. While I liked the context offered, it also distracted from the story.

The language definitely earns this novel an “R” rating.  I was particularly  troubled by the constant use of the “n word.” While I understand it’s both permissible and commonplace amongst these characters, I didn’t like it and I refuse to even type the word in my blog.

One of the most impressive feats Díaz manages is creating a Fantasy novel. In the strictest definition, the parallel universes of late Twentieth Century New Jersey and the Trujillo days of the Dominican Republic offer the reader a work of folklore-laden Fantasy and contemporary Historical Fiction.

All in all, I’m glad I read his book and I quickly requested Díaz’s collection of short stories Drown via ILL.

Four out of Five Pearls

Places: The Dominican Republic; Paterson, NJ; New York, NY, New Brunswick, NJ

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