When I first heard of this novel, I thought it would be about town life. I think there is a place called Middlesex. I imagine it is a British suburb, somewhere in the outskirts of England.
I asked my cousin, who was then in Japan, to buy me a copy of this. Why would I ask someone to buy me a book without even knowing what the book is about? The book being a Pulitzer winner is my only reason. Anyway, months later, when she sent our grandma some goodies, I got my copy of the book. I instantly realized then that this is not about my imaginary town of Middlesex. I gathered that on the book cover. It is the picture of someone inside a flower.
And what do flowers connote? Yes, they are parts of a plant, but if you hear sex and flowers, you wouldn’t be thinking of botany. I even thought it’s a gay-themed book, because of the word middle. So what is it really?
It’s about hermaphroditism. That’s not a spoiler. The first paragraph of the novel makes that clear. The narrator, Cal/Calliope Stephanides, talks about being born twice, first as baby girl in a hospital, then next as a teenage boy probably in the same hospital.
So it’s not gay. It’s actually lesbian. Kidding.
I mentioned lesbian because there is a little about it here, although it’s not technically that. Calliope was a beautiful girl. When high school came, he/she went to an exclusive school. He/she turned into an awkward girl. Too tall, broad shoulders, no breasts, too athletic for his/her too posh classmates. He/she’s confused for having feelings for his/her classmates and forever waiting for his/her monthly period, which of course never came because of his/her medical condition.
I will let Eugenides talk about the medical stuff because he’s so good at it without having to feel like you are in med school. I have read nothing like this: medical, funny, lyrical, poignant. Bittersweet at times because it reminds me of the monster lurking inside me.
Monster is probably the most accurate description that Cal had for himself/herself when he/she first discovered that his/her penis is tucked inside his/her labia, both minora and majora. Okay, I notice that it’s already annoying seeing those slashes, but we can now officially categorize Cal as a he.
I think he had an option to continue living as a woman, but he is not a woman. Why choose to be a woman when you do not have a womb? Why choose to be one when you have a penis, never mind that it’s hiding and a bit deformed? And why choose to live a different life, a far cry from the one before?
Why choose to be a man when you will only face ridicule from people every waking day of your life? Why choose to be one when you can never be fully looked at as a man? And why does he have to choose like there is a choice?
The truth is, there is no choice. Cal just has to gulp everything in one huge mouthful. The teenage angst, the media attention, the mixed awe and rejection, the suddenly distant past, the not so cheery future. In some sense, Cal is a real man for being able to go through all the tumult and confusion. He may have faltered, but he made it back, not without his family’s love and support.
And speaking of family, I think we have Cal’s parents to blame for his cruel and almost unfathomable fate.
Hermaphroditism is quite a mysterious phenomenon, but it is closely related to incest. Yes, there is too much incest in this novel. I squirm so much at the mere thought of it, and I have to say that Eugenides has a huge talent for making me not react that way when reading about the incestuous part of the novel.
The incest in this book is not as bad as it seems. I forgave the characters who engaged in such act. They are in love, not in the way that they cavort on the love bed every time there is a chance to do so. This is pure love that I am talking about.
But of course, this love has its consequences, one being the presence of a mutated gene that could produce an offspring with two sexes. And this gene can manifest itself even after a number of generations has already passed.
So you see, our actions, however good or bad our intentions may be, always have their effects. But we cannot help it. We can’t always foresee the future. We can only hope to be lucky or to have the necessary strength to go on with what we have in store.