Book Club: MIDDLESEX thread

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by kholmes, Feb 25, 2008.

  1. kholmes

    kholmes New Member

    What did you think of this book, one and all? I thought it a heck of a book, a tour-de-force of prose and a very absorbing story. It did feel like two separate narratives for a while: the story of generations of a Greek immigrant family to Detroit, and then a coming-of-age story of a person with a very unusual gender designation. I'll bet the Twins recognized a lot of the Detroit settings: the downtown area, Grosse Pointe, and even Middlesex Drive.

    For this month, how about responding to one of the questions below, and then posting one of your own about the book for others to answer?

    A few questions come to mind:

    Did you think it was fate or chance that led to Cal's condition?

    What does America represent for Desdemona? Milton? Cal?

    Why do you think Cal decides to live as a man instead of as a woman?

    A friend and I were also talking about this question: why doesn't Cal, grown up and living in Berlin, have an operation and have the full "equipment," shall we say, of a man?

    Why did Cal/Calliope call her brother "Chapter 11"?


    [This Message was Edited on 02/26/2008]
  2. Callum

    Callum New Member

    ... I loved this book when I read it for another book club three years ago.

    Well, now I WILL re-read it so I have something to add... I like what I've read on this thread so far.

  3. Rosiebud

    Rosiebud New Member

    adored this book, it was the kind I love, the ones you can't put down.

    Fate or Chance? Well if the Turks hadn't been so cruel and historically they were, they controlled Greece for hundreds of years and were barbarically cruel - then Milton and Desdemona wouldn't have had to flee their island home and there would have been more young men for her to choose from (the Turks having murdered most of them). So chance.

    But....this kind of inbreeding went on in these small places because of isolation, keeping the girls away from boys etc. so maybe fate played a hand here too. I found this a little hard to accept at first, the YUK factor came into play but it didn't turn me against Milton and Desdemona, I just wish their marriage could have been happier.

    For Milton and Desdemona America meant freedom and the - opportunity to do well. It also meant a place where they were unknown, except for her cousin, where they could live as man and wife.

    For Cal I'm not so sure - he felt repressed but that was his condition not his country or was it living in America and its intolerance of his condition that made him feel that?

    I think that Cal decided to live as a man instead of a woman because he was physiologically more of a man than a woman. I can understand why he didn't get the operation when he was young - because he was so scared by the 'expert' doctor who didn't know what he was doing and this probably put Cal off contacting other medical people.

    However I see your point Ken about having it done in Berlin which was/is a very tolerant society. I think Terch is right in saying that Cal wanted someone who would love him as he is.

    Loved this book and will keep it and re-read it a few years down the line.

  4. Rosiebud

    Rosiebud New Member

    I misread.....thought we were to answer 'all' the questions and now I don't want to erase any answers as it took awhile to write them.


    Do you think Cal would ever have the chance of a lasting partnership with a woman??
  5. mollystwin

    mollystwin New Member

    Yes Ken, it was fun recognizing all the Detroit references in the book. Downtown, Greektown, Lake St Clair, The Grosse Pointe etc. Also as Molly mentioned, the character was almost exactly our age so we could remember and related to what she was going through growing up.

    I experienced the Yuk factor with Desdemona and Milton too especially at first. But then I was OK with it. There was so much love between them, but it was ruined by Desdemona's guilt!!

    I would hope that Cal has a chance with a relationship. Maybe with the asian girl he is with at the end of the book. She seemed accepting of his condition.

    I'm not sure why Cal decided on being a guy. That was a surprise to me as well.
  6. kholmes

    kholmes New Member

    Molly: That's interesting that Cal was born the same year you and Dar were. (I can't remember what the year was or how old Cal was, though!) I found the same site on "Intersex" people that you did. I never knew much about hermaphroditic or intersex people before.

    Terch: Your point of view on it always being fate was interesting. What makes you feel that way?

    Callum: Hello! I hope you're doing well. You must be a fast reader. It would take me a while to read MIDDLESEX twice. I'd be curious to hear your take on the above questions.

    Rosie: I'm glad you answered all four of them! I liked your answers. You posed two great questions, too. I'm not sure if Cal felt oppressed more from his condition or if American society's attitudes came into play. Probably a bit of both. After all, he fled the States for Berlin, from where he tells the story.

    Judging by Cal's relationship with the Asian woman in Berlin, I don't think he feels capable of having a long-term relationship with a woman. But who knows, she is relatively accepting, as Dar says, and maybe as he gets older, if one can project his character beyond the book's timeframe.

    Dar: Greektown! I ate in a good restaurant there one year, when I was in Detroit for a conference. I stayed across the river in a hotel in Windsor. I definitely felt the "Yuk factor" about Desdemona's and Lefty's incestuous relationship, but as I read on, I felt more understanding of their historical and cultural situation.

    Snog: I'd be curious to know your take on the questions!

    I'd also be curious to know what others think about the above questions.
    [This Message was Edited on 02/26/2008]
  7. kholmes

    kholmes New Member

    Thanks for your interesting explanation. I think you're absolutely right about Cal seeing his life as being the result of fate. Wasn't it Einstein who said, "God does not play dice"? Or Shakespeare in Hamlet: "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will." I tend see both fate and blind, dumb luck playing a part in our lives, if that's a logical possibility.
  8. desertlass

    desertlass New Member

    I finished it about a month ago-- I was enjoying it so much that I read bits of it aloud to my husband-- and then he wanted to read it-- so we took turns reading it aloud to each other. It made it go much slower that way, but we're both a couple of book geeks-- so, we were happy.

    First of all, I am thoroughly amazed at the author's ability to get inside the head of so many different characters--I mean, many authors can do that-- but sometimes you can tell that the author is doing it to make the hero seem even more heroic.

    In this case, I felt like each character was a hero in their distinct ways. Even some of the side characters, like the doctor that fled Greece with them.

    I told my husband that I could not wrap my mind around how the author would know how to present the feelings of a boy growing up identified as a girl, without having gone through it-- there was never a false note-- and somehow I never got lost in thinking that this was actually about a girl discovering her lesbianism. I kept feeling Callie's maleness even as a small child, even before she becomes Cal.

    To answer one of the questions, I think I'll pick the one about America and what it represents-- but will add this on a separate post.

    To end with, I was wondering if any of us had some strange feelings arise with Desdemona when she "took to her bed", although she was in good health, physically. The whole issue of a phsychologically and self-imposed invalidism was difficult for me, because of all the times I've worried that "other people" were thinking that I was that way and that if would just get out of bed, everything would be fine. Heck, I've even thought that way myself, out of desperation to be the one in control of this illness. Did anyone else have similar thoughts of feelings on that?

    Will ponder a little on the "America" question, before responding. I loved reading the posts on the whole fate/chance topic.

    Thanks, so much Ken!
  9. mollystwin

    mollystwin New Member

    Yep, the self imposed illness by Desdemona did bother me. And I know what you mean about questioning our own motives.

    I had a period where I just thought Mind over Matter and just tried to go about my business as a healthy person to see if it was all in my head. Needless to say, it didnt' work, and put me in a flare for a while!

  10. desertlass

    desertlass New Member

    I really liked having the definitions that Terch provided-- thanks!

    I wonder if the chance does play a bigger part in life than we realize. And I think a person can still believe that God/Universe determines things, but there is still that whole area of free will and living in a material world that kind of creates a "wiggle room of chance" within that broader destiny.

    For instance, it seems like a person can have a destiny, but if a sudden event comes along, or a combination of events, then their destiny is interrupted, and in hindsight the resulting condition is called fate.

    If they are going along their journey toward destiny, and the chance things that happen don't interfere, then they aren't interrupted, and they meet with that destiny.

    For instance, in the book, the Dotor (can't remember his name!) thought he was destined to be kept safe from any invading Turk armies, because he had the letter from the commander.

    But by chance, the soldiers who stormed his home couldn't read. This is what he can't accept-- that something that random sealed the doom/fate for his family. He just keeps repeating "they coudn't read..."

    But apparently, he was destined to go to America, because even against his own will, Lefty was able to get him a spot on the ship, and keep him from throwing himself overboard.

    When he meets the nurse and is distracted while examining Cal as a baby, and thus overlooking his hidden organ-- the moment that should have determined that the baby would be raised as a boy-- was interrupted.

    So that moment in time seems like a strange combination of destiny for the doctor and nurse, chance because of the timing, and fate for Cal, whose own destined life as a boy was interrupted and thus determined his fate to have to go through everything he did, before settling into his adult self.

    I tried to discuss these concepts within the context of the book, and how the author might see them interplaying. If I tried to discuss them in terms of life in general, and what all the various beliefs are, I think we could be here all day.

    Although, discussing these broader concepts with you fine people would be a wonderful way to spend a day... :)

  11. kholmes

    kholmes New Member

    Thanks for your thoughtful posts. How neat that you and your husband read parts of the book out loud to each other.

    Too tired to process more tonight, but I'll get back to you!

    [This Message was Edited on 03/02/2008]
  12. inthemoment

    inthemoment New Member

    Hi I love to read and I am interested in joining if there is room. When and where do you meet, and how often? How often does the book change. Being as I am home alot this would be a great experience for me. Thanks for the consideration, and if club is full I understand that too.
  13. rockgor

    rockgor Well-Known Member

    May I call you In? Where are you in the Midwest? We have other mid-westerners here. Ken, our leader and question ponderer, is from Minnesota. I am a real mid-westerner; born in Iowa, grew up in Minnesota, went to school in Wisconsin, and know how to say Uff-da.

    Anyway we have no rules. anybody who likes is a member. You don't even have to read the book. I didn't read this month's book because it didn't sound like something I'd like. But I did post about other books I was reading.

    Every month Ken puts up a post and people suggest books. Then we vote in a later post and finally, at the end of the month, discuss the book.

    What have you been reading lately?


  14. Rosiebud

    Rosiebud New Member

    Lisette, I too felt uncomfortable with Desdemona's self styled bed ridden illness - because as Molly says, thats how many people see us.

    Terch, yes Canada is a wonderful country, I had 5 great years there 68 - 73.

    Inthemoment - welcome to our little book club.

    [This Message was Edited on 03/02/2008]
  15. kholmes

    kholmes New Member

    In the Moment: Rock always does a great job of welcoming people, but I wanted to say welcome, too. Our book for this month is The Kite Runner. Let's see, we've got Rosiebud from Scotland, Terch from Canada, Mollystwin and Twinofdar from Detroit, Rock from LA and me from New Mexico (though both Rock and I grew up in Minnesota).

    Lisette and Rosie: Good point about Desdemona's becoming bedridden. That's a sensitive area for most of us, isn't it? In the early stages of my illness, I wondered if this was some sort of self-imposed, subconscious thing, but then my body would shout out otherwise and when I realized what colossal nonsense that idea is, I rarely had the feeling anymore. The CDC's acknowledgment that CFS is a real, physical illness, also helped to do away with that idea for me.

    Terch: I've loved Canada ever since I was a kid, when we crossed the Minnesota border to visit Thunder Bay and drive all the way around Lake Superior. I stayed in Windsor (as in MIDDLESEX!) when I was attending a conference in Detroit. I speak French and have always regretted never seeing Montreal. As far as western Canada, I think the areas around Vancouver, Hope, and between Banff and Jasper are among the most beautiful in the world. And the friendliness of Canadians!

    [This Message was Edited on 03/02/2008]
  16. kholmes

    kholmes New Member

    Terch, I liked your definitions, too, and Lisette, I liked what you said about events in the doctor's life (I can't remember his name now, either), especially the scene in which he "misses" seeing Cal's telltale signs that she's a he. Both fate and random, bad luck do seem to play a role in his life, and in Cal's.

    Certainly, Eugenides or the narrator puts himself into a sort of God-like position, omnisciently reflecting on the action or what's in the character's minds.

    Not to bring too much theology into the discussion, but I recently read a book called GOD OF THE POSSIBLE, by a theology professor from Minnesota named Greg Boyd. Theologians and philosophers have been aruging about this since the ancient Greeks and probably earlier. He posits that free will and random chance play a greater role in the universe than theologians have previously believed, even though God is still, ultimately, in control. He argues that the randomness of things like quantum physics reflects this. Still, I can't help feeling that there is a sort of predetermined quality to much of our lives, and the lives of the characters in Middlesex.
    [This Message was Edited on 03/02/2008]
  17. Rosiebud

    Rosiebud New Member

    Hi Ken

    I speak French too, my daughter is half French and bi-lingual. I'm afraid I speak French with the accent of a peasant!! So I've been told, my grammar leaves a lot to be desired but I can communicate very well. I was last in France last Nov vising my 'ex' mother in law before she passed away. My daughter goes over frequently to visit her relatives there.

    I spent a year living in Lille and have visited the Dordogne Region twice.

    I think Canadians are the friendliest people though I have to admit I hitched down the westcoast of the States a few times and met very friendly people there too.


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