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Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex

Middlesex

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As the Age of the Genome begins to dawn; we will; perhaps; expect our fictional protagonists to know as much about the chemical details of their ancestry as Victorian heroes knew about their estates. If so; Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides) is ahead of the game. His beautifully written novel begins: "Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce's study; 'Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites.' " The "me" of that sentence; "Cal" Stephanides; narrates his story of sexual shifts with exemplary tact; beginning with his immigrant grandparents; Desdemona and Lefty. On board the ship taking them from war-torn Turkey to America; they married-but they were brother and sister. Eugenides spends the book's first half recreating; with a fine-grained density; the Detroit of the 1920s and '30s where the immigrants settled: Ford car factories and the tiny; incipient sect of Black Muslims. Then comes Cal's story; which is necessarily interwoven with his parents' upward social trajectory. Milton; his father; takes an insurance windfall and parlays it into a fast-food hotdog empire. Meanwhile; Tessie; his wife; gives birth to a son and then a daughter-or at least; what seems to be a female baby. Genetics meets medical incompetence meets history; and Callie is left to think of her "crocus" as simply unusually long-until she reaches the age of 14. Eugenides; like Rick Moody; has an extraordinary sensitivity to the mores of our leafier suburbs; and Cal's gender confusion is blended with the story of her first love; Milton's growing political resentments and the general shedding of ethnic habits. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about this book is Eugenides's ability to feel his way into the girl; Callie; and the man; Cal. It's difficult to imagine any serious male writer of earlier eras so effortlessly transcending the stereotypes of gender. This is one determinedly literary novel that should also appeal to a large; general audience

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