I’m having trouble letting go of my friend’s copy of Middlesex. I think if I type out a few of the passages that meant the most to me, I can finally give it back.

I said a few times that I am so pissed off that Middlesex already won the Pulitzer, because now I can’t be first to declare it the latest Great American Novel (yes, I do think a lot of myself). It is as rich, complex, and readable as Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which (to my great satisfaction) the New York Times panel named the greatest work of fiction in the last 25 years. It’s not for the faint of heart– but if you dig in, it is so worth it.

Middlesex is a great story– a requirement. It’s beautifully written– not a requirement, but quite nice. But what I love about it is the way Eugenides can touch upon every divergent chaotic aspect, turning point, compromise and loss that makes a story, a person, a family, a nation, our beliefs and values– and it hangs together, like our lives somehow do, and is a darn good read. And it’s about the Other Side, that we never seem to think of on our own. For example, I never would have thought to flip the Armenian Genocide coin to see the Greek Atrocities that came with it.

Deeper than that, I love the way he treats the compromises we, as individuals, as families, as communities and nations, are forced into (or believe we are forced into) in order to survive–bootlegging, soft porn, hash, heritage, covert operations in Cyprus, community, family— and I love the way he questions gender and gender roles. I believe gender prejudice is one of the two most important issues we must face if we are going to survive as a nation, as communities and as individuals with any integrity whatsoever. But he doesn’t bang us over the head with that. That may not even be his intent. (I’ve steered clear of reviews/interviews.) It sneaks up on us through the eminently readable and very broad story and the emphatically sympathetic characters. And that’s always the way things begin to matter to us–through paying honest, caring attention to the people experiencing them.

So, the passages.

“I bring up my parents’ failed assault on the Great Books for a reason… Even back then the Great Books were working on me, silently urging me to pursue the most futile human dream of all, the dream of writing a book worthy of joining their number, a one hundred and sixteenth Great Book with another long Greek name on the cover: Stephanides. That was when I was young and full of grand dreams. Now I’ve given up any hope of lasting fame or literary perfection. I don’t care if I write a great book anymore, but just one which, whatever its flaws, will leave a record of my impossible life.” (302)

Quoting (fictionalized, I’m guessing?) Phil Donahue on medical and psychological aspects of transsexuality and hermaphroditism in the seventies: “Here’s what’s not so funny. These live, irreplaceable sons and daughters of God, human beings all, want you to know, among other things, that that’s exactly what they are, human beings.” (410)

“I don’t fit into any of these theories… Unlike other so-called male pseudohermaphrodites who have been written about in the press, I never felt out of place being a girl. I still don’t feel entirely at home among men. Desire made me cross over to the other side, desire and the facticity of my body. In the twentieth century, genetics brought the Ancient Greek notion of fate into our very cells. This new century we’ve just begun has found something different. Contrary to all expectations, the code underlying our being is woefully inadequate. Instead of the expected 300,000 genes, we have only 30,000. Not many more than a mouse.”

[So, how different are we, really, from each other, and from every living being? Do we have as much basis as we think for separating ourselves to the extent necessary to label, kill, turn a blind eye?]

“And so a strange new possibility is arising. Compromised, indefinite, sketchy, but not entirely obliterated: free will is making a comeback. Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.” (479)
There are more, so, to be continued.