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Wednesday, October 2nd, 2002



by Jeffrey Eugenides

Sophomore Effort

A review by Adrienne Miller

GIST: The tale of one extremely mutated gene, how it came to be, and what it turned into.

DETAILS: Cal Stephanides is a forty-one-year-old man, or "man," who'd been raised, until puberty, as a girl. Cal's hermaphroditism has a little something to do with the fact that his grandmother and grandfather were siblings. Cal, in the present time of the novel, is a State Department employee in Berlin, and is not, understandably, having all that much luck with the ladies. Whereas Eugenides's first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was a perfect, delicate miniature, Middlesex is a maximalist endeavor, and perhaps that's its downfall. The book is sweeping (eighty years of multigenerational family history from Greece to Detroit, a love story, and the rise of twentieth century industry), and the whole of it is recounted in episodic vignettes, in summary descriptions of past action. In Eugenides's defense, I suspect that Middlesex is somewhat of an homage to Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, a novel that has a similar structure, and whose title character doesn't even get himself born until a couple hundred pages in. Still though, there aren't enough honest-to-God real-time scenes in this book, not enough story. Eugenides may be hugely talented, and Middlesex may be big of heart, but there's not just not enough to sink your teeth into here.

Adrienne Miller is Esquire's literary editor.

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