Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: A

From the back cover:
Middlesex tells the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family, who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of 1967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret, and the astonishing genetic history that turns Calliope into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.

I don’t normally go in for multi-generational family epics, and I still think the basic concept is a boring one, but in Middlesex it’s handled in such a way that it’s all leading up to some revelations made in the first paragraph and explains how they came about. About halfway in or so when I discovered I was enjoying the sprawling epic, I looked it up and found that it had won the Pulitzer Prize for literature. I think it’s well-deserved in this case.

Although I do own a paperback copy of Middlesex, I actually listened to an unabridged audio recording read by Kristoffer Tabori, who was excellent. The language is not exactly florid, but it is pretty detail-rich. It might’ve been annoying to me if I were looking at it on a page, but Tabori adopts a storyteller mien that makes all the description seem necessary to convey the proper atmosphere.

There are a few things that keep this from getting an A+, however. There are two characters who receive quirky nicknames, which can come off as just a little pretentious. When Calliope’s brother is called Chapter Eleven in the first chapter, it totally elicited a groan from me, because I generally hate books that do stuff like that. It is eventually explained, but it just seems a little look-at-me clever. Also, there’s a bit of a plot hole at the end.

So, a plain ol’ A it is. Get the unabridged audio if you can.

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