Tag Archives: Jeffrey Eugenides

Challenge Update, January 2018

1 Feb

Well, January is starting off stronger than I expected. That’s good because the rest of my year is looking very busy! I’m going to remain hopeful that I can finish the goals I set for myself but I might be playing catch up in December. You can look at my progress at any time on my challenge page.

Books finished in January:

The Marriage Plot // Jeffrey Eugenides (4/5)
Please Look After Mom // Kyung-Sook Shin (3/5)
How to Win Friends and Influence People // Dale Carnegie (3/5)
The Elements of Style // William Strunk Jr. (4/5)
The Color Purple // Alice Walker (4/5)

I’ll have my review of Purple up early next week and then I’ll be completely caught up! I like this feeling.

When Are You Reading? Challenge

4/12
This is a strong start for me! I’m very pleased with it. All of my books except The Elements of Style were put in a time period. I could have stretched it a bit and included that one, but it didn’t feel as if it belonged in a specific time period as much as the others did. It’s great to have a few of these checked off already!

Goodreads Challenge

5/55
Starting off one book ahead of schedule! I’m feeling good but I know I’m going to have to keep pushing myself to maintain this pace and finish 55 books this year. It’s a stretch goal for myself and I’m a bit nervous about accomplishing it.

Book of the Month

I’m going to have to pick The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides this month. The book started slow but ended up being really fun for me to read. I’m excited to get to another Eugenides novel, possibly this year!

Added to my TBR

Are you ready for some crazy news? Not only am I down to 101 (I can hardly believe it) but I didn’t add any books to my shelf this month! I know, I’m probably living under a rock to be able to accomplish that, but I’m super excited. Getting below 100 seems so much more viable now.

Personal Challenge

I used these monthly posts to keep myself accountable to my personal goals for 2017 and I’m excited to do that again this year. You all were so supportive before.

  • Graduate and keep my 4.0- We’ll see. I start my first class on Monday and I’m a bit intimidated by it so far. Has anyone ever heard of an online class where you have to take the quizzes during a set 90 minutes on Thursday nights? This seems unreasonable to me in an online class!
  • Travel to Europe with my husband- We’re getting there! I have a place to stay in Amsterdam and I’m hoping to meet up with a friend in Scandinavia so travel plans are still in the works here.
  • Complete a race per month- I did the Lifetime Fitness Indoor Triathlon again, the second year in a row. I didn’t swim as far this year but I did place well! I was third in my age category (women 39 and under) and fifth amongst all women. I’ve got to get myself running faster to get a better place next year, haha.
  • Complete a 2018 Weather Blanket- I’ve started and got through the first two weeks of January. I’ve set it aside to work on a baby blanket but I plan to get back to it and catch up again as soon as that’s over.

How are your challenges going so far? I hope you’re off to a good start If you love historical fiction, give some thought to my challenge for 2018, it’s fun!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Book Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (4/5)

15 Jan

I bought a copy of this book soon after finishing Middlesex when I was in love with Eugenides. I didn’t have a huge urgency to read it, however, and the book languished on my shelf for four years before I decided to try it on audio.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Other books by Jeffrey Eugenides reviewed on this blog:

Middlesex (and book club reflection)

Summary from Goodreads:

It’s the early 1980s – the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to the Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.

As Madeleine tries to understand why “it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth century France,” real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead – charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy – suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old “friend” Mitchell Grammaticus – who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange – resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.

This book started off a little slow for me and I was really skeptical, thinking I wasn’t going to like it. Structurally, I didn’t like it too much. The bulk of the story was told in flashbacks and that annoyed me at every turn. It was too much like this, “Here’s a time jump! Want to know how we got here? Good, because I’m going to go back and fill in the time gap I jumped to build tension.” It got on my nerves really fast. I think that’s why I can’t give the full five stars. The characters and plot were really intriguing and well researched, but the jumps killed it for me.

I loved the characters. I can tell Eugenides spent a lot of time researching manic depression to depict Leonard and Madeline’s stories. I was fascinated with Mitchell’s travels, especially in light of my plan to travel Europe this summer. I felt the Hanna’s were a bit over accommodating, but I couldn’t tell if that was a regional thing or not. Some of the aspects of Madeline’s life growing up in New Jersey were very different from my Midwestern childhood. Maybe that’s why I connected with Mitchell so much better.

It’s a tough call, but I think Mitchell was my favorite character. I thought I was going to type Madeline up until I wrote this sentence, honestly. However, Mitchell was easier to feel sorry for. Madeline seemed to have trouble standing up for herself when it mattered. She seems to be angry with Leonard over and over but be won over by small and sudden gestures. She wants to take care of him so badly that she doesn’t take care of herself and gets into a very bad situation. Mitchell, on the other hand, is searching to find himself and what he really wants. I can appreciate that in a character, even if he gets to the end of the book and hasn’t really found the answer.

It was easier to relate to Mitchell than Madeline, and not just because Mitchell is from Detroit. I found Madeline cornered, stuck into decisions that were bad for her with no way out. She had family members telling her that she was going in a bad direction and didn’t listen, going that way regardless. She needed help but Leonard was in a greater need so she got no attention. She was easy to pity.

Jeffrey Eugenides
Image via Harvard

I liked hearing about Mitchell’s time in Europe. I’ve been before and I could relate to his travels there more than India. Again, because I plan to go myself this summer, I found some escape in this part of the story. Though it’s a bit crazy how much technology has changed travel since the 1980s!

Madeline’s time on Cape Cod was really tough for me to read. She was so trapped and her dependence and her stubbornness kept here there when she really should have gotten out. It was her last chance to make a break and she couldn’t take it and felt like a nurse. I felt really bad for her.

My audiobook was narrated by David Pittu. I didn’t like the voice he used for women. It was very nasal and I thought it made them all sound whiney. Madeline’s mom was the worst, but none of them came off favorably. Other than that, I felt he did well but I wish he’d used a less affected voice for female dialogue.

The book pokes fun at its own namesake, the marriage plot. Eugenides gave an interview at the end of my audiobook where he talked about wanting to write a marriage plot after the rise of feminism and show how that movement changed the marriage plot. In the book, Madeline has a lot more power than the heroines of Brontë or Austen heroines. However, she’s still stuck in a situation she doesn’t want to be in and realizes how the dissolution of her marriage could ruin her life. I found this really fascinating when I heard the interview and I wish I’d heard it halfway through the book instead of at the end. It would have been too many spoilers at the beginning, though.

Writer’s Takeaway: The flashback structure really ruined this book for me. Starting on the last day of college and flashing back through the four previous years was a bad way to start. Having Madeline wake up at home and flashing back to her engagement and honeymoon was even worse. This is something I’ll have to work at avoiding in my writing.

A bit slow, but a great set of characters and good pacing (besides the flashbacks). Four out of Five Stars.

This is my first book of the year and, consequently, my first book for the When Are You Reading? Challenge 2018, fulfilling the 1980-1999 time period.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Book Review No. 31- The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides | Vishy’s Blog
Book Review – The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides | Realizing Grace
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides | Friends of Atticus

WWW Wednesday, 3-January-2018

3 Jan

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: There wasn’t much movement on The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I didn’t work a lot last week so I didn’t have work lunchtime to read. I’m hoping this picks back up now that work has started again.
It’s a slow go with A Widow for One Year by John Irving but I knew it would be. I don’t drive a lot so having one book dedicated to driving time will be a book I don’t finish quickly. I’m only on the second disk and I’m having some trouble remembering where I left off before the holidays.
I’m over half way through Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin and really enjoying it. I thought the second person narration was going to throw me off a lot when I started but I got used to it very fast and I’m liking it a lot now.

Recently finished: I finished one last night and had to update this post right away so I could tell you all! I got through The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides thanks to cooking before my husband got home, haha. I finished it just before dinner was done and I’m so proud of myself for timing it just perfect. The review might not be up for a bit, I have a lot of posts I want to get up!
I did manage to write a review of The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester which was posted yesterday. Go check it out! I gave the book 3 out of 5 Stars. I liked it enough, but there were some slow bits. I’ve shared my full thoughts in the post.

Reading Next: I have Harry Potter y las Reliquias de la Muerte by J.K. Rowling ready to go as soon as I finish Mom. I’m hoping that will be this weekend at the latest.
I’ll be starting a new audiobook this morning but depending on what time zone you’re in, you might see this before I start it! My next audioboook will be How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I found a beautiful old copy of this book at a used book sale and brought it home. It wasn’t a priority so I lent it to a friend who found out the hard way that the glue was drying out and the pages were coming out! I figured it was better to audiobook this one now that I’m ready to read it.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 27-December-2017

27 Dec

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: I made some good progress on The Color Purple by Alice Walker during lunch last week. There was no one in the office to talk to me so I took a little longer reading and wasn’t sidetracked as often. Yay for the holiday slow down!
I’m flying with The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. This plot is a great slow burn and it has me seriously hooked. Eugenides is a great writer and I love the small nods to Detroit he adds.
My husband said I came home mad when I listened to NPR in the car so to counteract that, I got an audiobook on CD. It’s one I’ve wanted to read for a while, A Widow for One Year by John Irving. Irving is a favorite author of mine and I’m always excited to read one of his books. It’s slow going during the holidays when I’m not driving a lot, but I’ll get through it.
I just started Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin. It’s still too early to tell if this one is going to be as heartbreaking as the title and cover make me think!

Recently finished: I wrapped up The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester on Sunday morning. It feels so good to have another book finished before the end of the year. I didn’t think I’d finish this one before I left for vacation so I’m really glad to see it wrapped up and counting toward my 2017 total. I probably won’t have a review for it up until next week. I’m a bit bogged down with the holidays and party hosting at the moment.

Reading Next: I always pick a book to read in Spanish each year and for 2018 I’m returning to the world of Harry and I’ll be reading Harry Potter y las Reliquias de la Muerte by J.K. Rowling. I’m really looking forward to finishing my Spanish read-through of the series. I may have to start over at the beginning!


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 20-December-2017

20 Dec

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: I haven’t had much time to read The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I usually read my ebooks during lunch at work but with the holidays coming up, we’ve been having a lot of office lunches or lunches out so I haven’t read much.
I’m really enjoying The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester but, again, my reading has slowed down a bit. I’ve been so tired before bed that I spent four days on a single chapter. I’ll keep pushing on and I hope this is finished before the new year.
I have made some good progress on The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I’ve been baking a lot and wrapping presents and there’s nothing better than having a book in your ear to make those things feel like they’re flying by.

Recently finished: Little surprise, but nothing finished this week. After finishing three last week, I didn’t expect much from myself.
On the bright side, I got all three book reviews written! Last Thursday was This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman. I really enjoyed this one and gave it Four out of Five Stars. Pick it up if you can, it’s short and poignant.
This week I wrote about Persona Non Grata by Ruth Downie on Monday. I really enjoy the series and I plan to continue on with the fourth one. I gave this one Four out of Five Stars
Yesterday I posted about Singing My Him Song by Malachy McCourt. It wasn’t my favorite, but I still liked it. Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: My plan is still to read Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin. I’ll be starting as soon as I finish Madman.
I also picked out a book for my road trip to Ohio with my husband Christmas morning. We’re going to listen to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I’ve seen really good things about this one and with a movie coming out soon, I want to read/listen to it before I see the film.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 13-December-2017

13 Dec

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: What a week! I started three new books this week! The first was The Color Purple by Alice Walker. This book was recommended to me a while back and I was excited to grab a copy as an ebook and start reading it. This is a short one and those seem to make better ebooks for me because I read them so slowly. We’ll see how long this one takes.
The second was The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. I’m really enjoying this one so far! It’s been a while since I read some non-fiction that read like fiction. This one is keeping me up at night already and I think I’ll finish it quickly.
My next audiobook is The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I really enjoyed Middlesex and I hope this one is equally engaging. It will help if it’s also set in Michigan! So far, that’s not looking likely, but I’ll press on.

Recently finished: Three new reads and three books finished! The first was This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman which I finished while waiting at the chiropractor’s office. I enjoyed this one a lot and I thought it was a really great angle on a big problem. Plus, the ending wasn’t predictable which was a huge plus! Look for my review tomorrow.
The second was Singing My Him Song by Malachy McCourt. I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Schulman’s book but it was still a good read. I had some problems with the pacing and change in topics. My review will be up next week so take a look then at my reasoning.
I also finished Persona Non Grata by Ruth Downie! That’s right, I finished all my books from last week. This is my mini celebration of finishing my class and it feels wonderful. I really liked this historical fiction book and I plan to continue with the series.

Reading Next: The next physical book will be Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin. I wish I could start it sooner but I can’t find an ebook or audiobook of this one so it will have to wait.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Recently Added to my To-Read List (Part 2)

21 Nov

Part two following Monday’s part one. I’ve added so many books to my list since November started and it’s time to share them all. Am I wasting my time with any of these? Should I pick them up as soon as possible? Let me know in a comment, please!

  1. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. This is a side effect of finding an author I like. I instantly want to read everything he’s ever written. I went through this with John Irving in high school. It will fade, but it may take a while.
  2. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. This one has been floating around on my Goodreads “Recommended for You” lists since I joined. The story follows a Chinese-American man whose good friend in the 1940s was Japanese and was swept away into an internment camp at the outset of World War II. I saw this book at a library book sale and I had to grab it.
  3. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. As I explained above, this is a result of loving Middlesex so much. I saw this one at the book sale as well so it was more than necessary to buy it.
  4. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I’ve heard so many opinions and controversy around this book that I feel I have to read it. Also, I saw it at the book sale for only $2 and I can’t fight that price. My book club was going to read it a while ago and then took it off because it’s still unavailable in paperback. We’ll read it eventually.
  5. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. I added this book not knowing what it’s about. John Green tweeted that he loved it and I love John Green so it got added to the list. After reviewing that it’s about North Korea, I’m even more excited to read it.
  6. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. This one is on my Book Club list so I added it prematurely. KK said it was beautifully written which just makes me excited to read it. The Wisconsin setting intrigues me because I don’t think I’ve read any book that takes place there before.
  7. Daughter of the God-King by Anne Cleeland. This is another Goodreads First Reads win. I entered to in because it’s a historical fiction novel and I’ve always been intrigued by ancient Egypt, which is a central theme in this novel. It should be arriving in the mail shortly.

Finally, we’re caught up! That book sale I went to really did me in. My book shelf is pretty full and I’m forcing my husband to move some of his books off of it. What’s worth reading, what can wait? I’m always curious what you think, Reader.

Until next time, write on.

Book Club Reflection: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

20 Nov

Last Monday my book club met to discuss Jeffrey Eugenides’ book Middlesex. If you read my earlier post, then you know that I loved this book and I was so excited to talk about it.

Looking over my notes, it seems we talked a lot about the characters in the book that affected Cal’s life. The first I’ll address here was Dr. Luce, the gender specialist who Callie saw in New York. He seems to be slightly fantastical of a character in his description, but many of the women in my group agreed that he fit very well with the sexual revolution that went on in the 1970s and the emerging field of gender studies seemed to fit in well with the times. One of the questions we had about Luce was Callie’s relationship with him. Was she lying to him because it was easier, she thought it would make her fit in, or because she didn’t trust him? The narration Cal gives during this time made me think that Callie thought it would be easier to lie than it would be to admit she had feelings for women.

Another character that we all liked was Zora, Cal’s roommate in San Francisco. We all thought when we read that Cal had finally called Bob Presto that bad things were going to happen and to an extent, they did. However, what Cal learned from Zora was some of the best advice he got and it really helped him figure out who he was and who he could identify as.

We were all glad to find out at the end of the book why Eugenides continued to refer to Cal’s brother as Chapter 11. I knew as soon as he said Chapter 11 had taken over the family hot dog business that he was going to run it into the ground and file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It was a sort of teaser that Eugenides held that information back until the very end.

One of the names that stuck was the Obscure Object, the girl that Callie falls in love with at the age of 14. The story behind the name is almost more interesting than the character herself. Eugenides and his friend at Brown had a crush on the same girl and would refer to her as the Obscure Object. You can read the full story in this article.

Being that we’re based in the Detroit area, the setting of the book was something we wanted to discuss as well. We were glad that Eugenides chose to write about an area he obviously knows so well. (For the record, the audiobook version I listened to pronounced two words wrong that made it very obvious the reader was not from the Detroit area. You just had to ask someone!) Our group read another book a while back that had to do with the Detroit riots as well. Grand River and Joy focused on a Jewish business owner whose story was located downtown during the riots, much like Milton’s dinner. In contrast to the characters in that other book, Milton was very lucky to have the insurance policies he did. Even with one of them not paying out, he still made a killing from the collections after the riot which allowed him to support his family. Not all business owners were so lucky. Someone also pointed out that they knew were Halibut Street is and it’s no longer in a good area. That shows how much Detroit has changed in recent years.

Relating to the Detroit setting, we were intrigued by the girls school in Grosse Point. For the record, we were not aware of any such school, though if it is based on a real school, we decided it was likely the Grosse Point Academy, which is a co-ed school. What we liked was the hierarchy of girls that were created with the charm bracelet girls at the top. The imagery of that brought back memories of Claire’s Boutique bracelets that all the popular girls had in my school. One of our members attended a local all girls school and she said that being in an environment with all women can make for a very sexually charged experience. All the girls are talking about boys, thinking about boys, and doing things with boys. It’s no wonder that Cal’s own sexuality was on her mind all the time. This would also push her to think about men sexuality and pressure her to suppress her feelings for women. We loved the irony that the two founders were lesbian lovers.

One member posed the question to us, “What, if anything, was unusual about the way Callie discovered her sexuality? When we thought about it, the answer was really that nothing was unusual about it. Some women grow up quickly and can reach their full height at a young age. Callie’s strange height wouldn’t be unheard of. I remember a girl in my class who reached her full height at age ten and then never grew again. She felt awkward in her height bur a number of years until the rest of us caught up. Callie probably suspected that something similar was happening to her. Her desire to explore sex is not unusual either and I think if we all reflect on our early teen years, we can admit to ourselves that we thought about it. Her curiosity is not a male or female characteristic, the Obscure Object shares it with her as does Jerome.

So what is it that finally makes Callie decide to be Cal and make the change from a young girl to a young man? My argument was that he didn’t have a choice. In his mind, he felt like a man and his love for the Obscure Object was not a homosexual love, but a heterosexual love. It reminded me of an interview I saw years ago. It’s the story of Alyn Libman and I recalled the quote on this story where Libman says, “the label ‘lesbian’ felt comfortable, but it didn’t feel quite right.” I suspect Cal felt the same way about his attraction to the Obscure Object.

This reminded us as well of the story of Caster Semenya, a track star from South Africa who was subjected to gender testing following a win in the 2009 World Championships. She was found to have internal testicles, similar to the condition Dr. Luce diagnosed Cal with. Caster feels very strongly feminine and has continued to compete as a woman. It’s an interesting case to mention here due to Caster’s decision and its contact to Cal’s. As a side note, one of our members kept thinking a member of Cal’s family was going to end up having the same condition and they would discover it together. Caster would have made a great addition to the story.

Another big point we talked about was Eugenides decision to use the term hermaphrodite when referring to Cal’s condition and not intersex, a term that is referenced in the book as being more widely used. We thought that it was a more appropriate term to use because the story of Hermaphroditus tells of one man and one woman, a nod to the time Cal spent as a man and as a woman. While someone like Caster Semenya has the characteristics of both and could be call a hermaphrodite, she has only lived as a woman while Cal has seen both sides. It’s also a nod to his Greek heritage. Eugenides discusses this exact issue in an interview on Oprah.com.

Before Cal is born, he uses third person narration to describe the people and events that happened. Our group questioned if these telling were reliable. Because our narrator wasn’t there, who is he getting this information from? One reader suggested that some of the facts had been lost in translation. Desdemona didn’t speak English well and Lefty was always working in vein on translations that never seemed to end. Milton never learned Greek and soon Lefty stopped talking. Somewhere along the way, the stories could have been mixed up.

When I saw the title of this book, it made me think of some old English countryside. In truth, Eugenides has admitted it’s a throwback to Middlemarch. But even more than that, it’s the street he grew up on in Grosse Point (how cool is that?). At the same time it was so appropriate because it brings about Cal’s dilemma. He’s caught between two genders, stuck in the middle. In the house, everything was on display and nothing could be hidden behind all the glass walls. In much the same way, Cal couldn’t hide who he was from anyone.

There was comedy and tragedy in this book and, like Milton’s cuff links, both sparkled in the sun.

Writer’s Takeaways: There were two points we made about Eugenides’ stylistic choices. The first was his use of a combination of first and third person. I listened to an interview with him where he talked about how he tried to write in first person and he tried to write in third person, but first person left out the history of the family and third person required him to impersonalize Cal’s journey. Third person would require a pronoun and Eugenides didn’t want to make the he/she switch with Cal’s character. The point of the book is that he’s a person no matter what his gender.

The second thing I admired was his ability to mix fanaticism into the narration without seeming silly or childish. The scene that struck us all as fantastical was the one toward the end where Milton flies over the city in his car right before his death. He explores his old haunts in Detroit in an out of body experience that seemed to fit perfectly into the context of the story.

We all enjoyed it and those who didn’t finish plan to. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

8 Nov

I finished this book yesterday and I had a serious book hangover for the next few hours. Wow. That word sums up my feelings on Middlesex better than any other. Wow. I’m so excited to write this review. This is a book club book so I’ll be doing a book club review next week.

Book Cover taken from Goodreads.com

Book Cover taken from Goodreads.com

Middlesex by Jeffry Eugenidies

Middlesex tells the story of inter-sexual Cal Stephanides as he traces his roots back to Greece and follows the genes that led to his condition. The story is fictional and told from a mix of first and third person points of view as Cal retells his story. The text bounces between Cal in his 40s living in Berlin and his story through the 20th century.

The plot begins in Turkey near the Greek border where Cal’s grandparents Desdemona and Lefty decide that they should get married. This is complicated because they are brother and sister. To escape the villagers who would criticize them, they escape and flee to Detroit to live with their cousin, Lina, the only person privy to their secrets. Desdemona and Lefty survive the 20s and 30s in Detroit and produce two children, Zoe and Milton. Milton goes on to marry his second cousin, Lina’s daughter Tessie. When Cal’s older brother (code named Chapter 11) is born, nothing is out of the ordinary. When Cal is born as Calliope, no one suspects that the seeming young girl will grow into a man. Calliope’s questions about her gender identity and seeming homosexuality become more confusing when she reaches puberty until she is finally referred to a specialist in New York. When the specialist recommends cosmetic surgery and hormone injection to retain her feminine identity, Calliope flees and becomes Cal.

This overview is a gross simplification of the plot. The nuances of Cal’s story make this book very rich and full of the wonderful details that sucked me into the story. I’ll add that I listened to the audiobook of Middlesex and the narrator was incredible and certainly added to my enjoyment of this story.

Maybe it was my relationship with the Detroit setting, but Cal’s journey struck a cord with me. As a girl, he never felt comfortable with his body. Though not due to hormones, I felt the same way until I was in college; I never felt like my body fit who I was. I think this story is a wonderful example of a story that is relatable even when the character’s journey is anything but ordinary. Cal is a person with unusual problems but he experiences them with the same emotions all humans have.

One of the opinions Eugenides shares at the very end of the book has to do with how Cal’s family perceived him after his gender switch. He said that they realized that gender didn’t matter much; Cal was still the same person he had been when they called him Calliope. I took this more generally to mean we should treat people as people, not as men or women. Each soul is a unique human being and we shouldn’t have preconceived notions about how that human will act or talk or be based on characteristics such as gender, race, sexual orientation, or age. These things don’t matter because each person is uniquely designed to be the person they are, no matter the exterior.

Eugenides was able to take a controversial issue like sexual identity and write a book that is widely accepted by everyone regardless of their familiarity with the subject. He has personalized the intersexual journey and given Cal such a voice that he stands above all preconceived notions as a singular, strong character. I wish I could meet him in person because I have so much respect for him.

Writer’s Takeaway: I don’t know if I can put my finger on what exactly I loved about this book. Possibly the subject Eugenides picked; I’ve never read anything like this before and I don’t know if I will ever again. As writers, we’re always looking for a subject that will stand out and Eugenides did a wonderful job.

After reading this book, I instantly added The Virgin Suicides to my list so I could read another book by Eugenides. I highly recommend it, a full 5 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on.