Bookish Banter: Middlesex

Hey! It's me! I'm alive! Until my next update, here's a conversation between Julz and I about a reread for both of us- Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex. It's hard for me to reread things, since there are just sooooo many books to read as is, but I always walk away with a new, deeper understanding and appreciation that I should do it more often.

Christine: Obviously fate versus free will is a huge thematic component in the text, which is a nice tie back to the classical references and ancestry. Then there’s also the idea of nature versus nurture, which is an interesting extension of that concept. How much control did the characters have of their lives? Their futures?

Julz:  I think free will was more prevalent than fate.  Sure, there were things that were beyond the characters’ control, like civil unrest and the goings on of the wider world, but every decision they made shaped the lives of their family.  Like, um, marrying your brother! 

I could totally relate to Callie here:  “Gradually as most of the other girls in my grade began to undergo their own transformations, I began to worry less about possible accidents and more about being left behind, left out.”  That was so me until my junior year of high school.

Christine: Father Mike and Jimmy Zizmo both marry into the family and end up showing their corruption (although Zizmo is much more overt and immediate). Both are religious figures and are outsiders- what do you think Eugenides is saying about those not blood related to the family? Or even religion (I know Zizmo’s organization wasn’t exactly traditional)?

Julz: I think the way Eugenides addressed religion made it sound more like superstition and it felt like he was rolling his eyes at the concept of organized religion. Maybe that’s why he portrayed Mike and Jimmy as corrupt, as they were a reflection of those institutions.  Hmmm?

Christine: Agreed! Speaking of secondary male characters, what do you think of Dr. Luce? Part of me hated him for treating Cal as a mere specimen, but if I try to look at things objectively, he’s a scientist and this is a really, really different time period when it comes to sexuality and patient transparency. 

Julz: Well, that can circle back to the nature versus nurture concept.  Luce was convinced that despite her maleness, Cal could continue as female because that’s how she was nurtured.  I didn’t really feel strongly either way with how Luce handled Cal.  I think he expressed enough compassion toward her, and yet, there was a bit of detachment when studying her.  Hey, it was the 70’s they were all probably smoking cigarettes in his office.

Christine: I loved this book, despite forgetting a lot of it (I did read a really long time ago, in my defense), but I had one criticism, and that was of some of the symbolism being a bit too obvious, namely the spoon and the house address. Any nitpicky problems? 

Julz: I didn’t think Eugenides was hitting me over the head with symbolism any more than say, John Irving.  I read it probably 15 years ago, and it was pretty much like reading it for the first time again.  This book definitely cemented my love for multigenerational family epics (unabashed plug for Ursula, Under by Ingrid Hill). 

My one irritation was that we didn’t get the punchline to Cal referring to her brother as Chapter Eleven until the very end.

And funny enough, the first time I read this book, I highlighted the following (about the house on Middlesex Boulevard): “…communism, better in theory than reality.”  I’m guessing I did that because it’s so similar to a quote from the Simpsons.

Christine: I will have to check that one out. I always say that I don’t like them and then end up eating my words, hah!

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