Best of the Millennium

#16: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

By posted at 2:11 pm on September 21, 2009 0

coverMiddlesex, like a girls’ locker room, is crowded and noisy, with smells.  The novel combines the respective hysterias of two fraught traditions–the Greek and the mid-century American (one produced the professional lady mourner, the other produced Saul Bellow).  At the center of this story, which, like many family histories, is at once tremendously unlikely and perfectly plausible, Jeffrey Eugenides has placed the two great standards of the human race: a pair of genitals, and a heart.  And while the genitals of Middlesex’s intersex hero are of an unusual sort, with them Eugenides conveys not only the singular misery of gender and sexual confusion, but the universal lumpen misery of adolescence, and the pain of young love.  These, and the goofy relatives, and the historical vignettes, are relayed as a kind of artful schmaltz, which doesn’t stray too far into parody.  The novel seems carefully researched and written; and its numerous set pieces (Smyrna burning, Detroit burning, penis stirring) are controlled.  It’s a wonderful novel.  I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Read an excerpt from Middlesex.
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