Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

In process.

[UPDATE, 7.1.04: I finally did finish this a couple of weeks back, and thoroughly loved it. It’s got all the things I love in a novel: a deeply personal story, a substantive intersection with a larger cultural and social history, and fantastic sentences.]

8 thoughts on “Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

  1. TS is the most complex and sustained dialogue between author and reader ever constructed. M is good, a good read, but Eugenides is no Sterne. What I don’t understand, though, is why anyone says M resembles TS, whether to its credit or not. I see no likenesses. What am I missing?

  2. Thanks, Jake. I let that comment hang there hoping somebody other than me would respond. Because I can’t help but wonder if, in some sense at least, ALL Bildungsroman-with-twist type novels are indebted to Tristram Shandy. In which case, does saying that Sterne wrote the “original” really tell you anything of value?

  3. come on guys, get on message here.

    it’s not just the Bildungsroman thang – I threw the book on the floor in disgust after 6 pages, it was such an obvious steal..

    narrator speaks from birth in opening chapter – check

    family buzzes around with weird superstitious notions over divining childs future – check

    our little “homonculus” is fragile – check

    uncle/aunt present with antiquated ideas -check

    THEN cut away to tell long back story for half of book and don’t actually get born properly till half way through – check

    I could go on…

    it’s Shandy all the way guys

    even the NY Times reviewer mentioned its ‘homage’ to Sterne, and well, we all know what the code word for rip-off is, don’t we?

    I don’t mind homages works, but it’s disgraceful that he won the pulitzer for this.

  4. I’m standing by my disagreement. Middlesex is not the best thing I’ve ever read. I’m not defending its Pulitzer. But “homage” is not a code word for rip-off. All writers borrow, to greater and lesser extents. Good writers do something inventive with the borrowing. And I’d argue that Eugenides does so. You’d argue that he doesn’t. Whatever: we disagree. But “disgraceful” and “steal” and “rip-off” strike me as far too harsh for descriptions of a process little different from that of any number of other authors. Originality, per se, is precious hard to come by, and, I think, really beside the point.

  5. KF may well be right about the existence of a class of novels that owe something to TS. But Sterne’s book may derive from something else (what’s completely original, anyway?), and perhaps it’s most reasonable simply to posit the existence of such a class, Bildungsroman-with-twist. Maybe it had a particular flowering in the 18th century: check out the beginning of Smollett’s ‘Roderick Random,’ which appeared before TS.

    ‘Middlesex’ is not written like TS, which is heavily fragmented and presents a texture of rifts. Callie simply tells her story in a relatively conventional way. While it’s interesting to compare the two novels, the differences seem to me to outweigh the similarities by a considerable margin.

    This dialogue we’re having is a lot of fun. Thanks to everyone.

  6. yes and of course Sterne is deeply indebted to Cervantes, to whom he gives fullsome praise within his book, and openly acknowledges his debt to the dear Don (unlike some… the opening chapeter of Middlesex owes an obscene amount to Shandy)

    too much happens in Smolett’s R.R. for it to be such a great comparison – that is Bildungsroman for sure, Sterne kind of just meanders in his own little patch, with utter brilliance.

    it fits more in with the meta-text genre, and in many ways shows a clean pair of heels to all those contemporary novelists who thinks they are being clever with their witty narrative loops and pagination tricks (leaving a blank page so that the reader can describe the beauty of their loved one, for example)

    I hear a screen adaptation is on the way

    though its long overdue

  7. Screen adaptation? Awesome. Hope its good because it won’t be easy to film.

    In addition to a fun plot (even if “ripped off”) and great characters, I really liked the history, the Detroit, the cars, and the writing.

    I was very disappointed, however, when I tried to read Virgin Suicides.

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