I did it again. I’m midway through my next book and am now posting on *Middlesex* with the inevitable consequence that a lot of the thoughtful commentary I had stored up for this novel has seeped into the pages of the next. Oh well. Such is the life of this reader, and so you’ll be left with this less than fullsome review of what is a tremendous novel.
Principally tremendous because of its narration. The first person narrator, Cal(lie), weaves her (fictional) autobiography with the biographies of her parents and grandparents in the style of the best of these genres: stories not so much about the people themselves, but about the eras in which they live and the collective movements that shape their individual experiences. So it is that with Cal(lie) we traverse the economic booms and depressions of Detroit – in one of the better novels-of-a-city I’ve come across), the civil rights movement and the emergence of a queer politics in San Francisco.
Not only that, but the narrator’s willingness to imagine the perspective of others allows a quasi third person limited narration that glimpses at the reaction of her family members. An subtle, but powerful narrative move, too, comes as the narrative shifts to a conscious third person – you know the sort teenagers use when they’re telling their friends something funny – but in this case it’s not for comic effect, but rather because the narrator is so far removed from what is happening to his body and his identity that he fully loses “voice” of these sections of the narrative.
The story itself is compelling enough without the masterful narration, but the compelling plot – hermaphrodite man raised as girl discovers his masculinity in a painful climax of scientific/medicinal control over the body and the hegemony of the “normal body” – certainly provides a rich space for the narrative voice to reverberate.
And it’s true, nearly a week after finishing *Middlesex* I’m still struck by the singularity of Cal(lie), not as a “monstrous” body (as some characters in the book describe him), nor as an exceptional story of medicinal mishap and the ubiquity of the intersexed child, but rather as a singular expression of the bildungsroman. I can think of no better narrative exploration of the challenges, delights, horrors and ecstasies of coming-of-age. Descriptions of Cal(lie)’s attraction to the “Obscure Object” and the hesitating, sputtering, development of their relationship is quite simply brilliant.
So yeah. I really liked this one. I didn’t think I would. I should say that it sat on my shelf for years. I guess I thought it would be some kind of obsessive trip into gender/sexuality politics and that the whole book would be about the “monstrous” hermaphrodite body, but really it’s a book about growing up, about falling in love, about finding yourself, about fitting in to your family, about self-acceptance, *and* a book about being a hermaphrodite in a world that doesn’t always know exactly what to do with slippery identities.