Wednesday, March third, 2010
I started reading Middlesex last night, with a vague expectation that I was not really going to like it very much. I'm not sure why -- I must have read a dismissive review back when it came out, and internalized that. As it turns out, the book is (so far) excellent. I have been riveted to (Eugenides' imagining of) Cal's imagining of the sack of Smyrna, and his grandparents' flight, and their lives in mid-20th-C. Michigan. Have not quite gotten to the point yet of identifying with the grandparents but they are certainly well-crafted characters; I am identifying very closely with Cal him/herself. The vivid quality of the descriptions of widely disparate times and places is stunning.
Sunday, March 7th, 2010
I've recommended Middlesex to a couple of people over the past week -- but every time I have done so I have not been able to come up with the right frame. I've been talking up little bits of the book -- the portrait of mid-20th C. Detroit; the vividness of the historical episodes; the mapping of Cal's family's history -- but what I really dig about this novel is the fulness of it, the way it all fits together. I like all the pieces by themselves, but the whole is much more than its parts. (And Cal him/herself might be a good proxy for the totality of the book; but I've been unsure how much to talk about Cal's situation for fear of spoiling a good yarn.)
The chapter about the race riots is an instance of this -- I'm loving the aspect of the chapter which is vivid and informational, this is a lot of new historical details for me, but what really seals the deal for me is the way this data is woven in to the lives of the characters, the way this is part of the story.
(The chapter about the riots opens with Cal's father sleeping with a gun under the pillow, and a reference to Chekhov's line about a gun in the first scene -- but what is sticking out for me right now is the insurance policies in the first scene. The detail a few chapters back about Lefty having over-insured the diner, and told his son to keep the policies, made me think the place will burn down; and the riots seemed like they would be a good place for that to happen. So I'm scratching my head, wondering what the insurance is for...)
Aha! Nevermind -- I wrote that last paragraph before I got to the end of the chapter.
Monday, March 8th, 2010
In the long, slow third part of Middlesex, there is a strong sense of building towards a climax. Calliope was born at the beginning of the third part; and the narrative arc is moving deliberately toward her coming of age and becoming Cal -- as she grows the the tension is increasing constantly.
There's some tension between the narrated character of young Callie -- who does not know what's going to happen -- and the narrator himself, who has told us well in advance what is happening. I'm waiting with bated breath to find out how it happens.
A comparison that's flickered across my mind a couple of times is to the character of Oskar in The Tin Drum -- I don't remember how clearly Oskar-the-narrator laid this out, but it seems to be understood that young Oskar is clairvoyant, that he knows from the beginning about how his life is going to play out.
Thursday, March 11th, 2010
It contributes something to a reading of Middlesex, to ask how well Cal knows the stories he is telling. Much of the book is told in something similar to a third-person omniscient voice, scenes where Cal simply couldn't know the things he is telling, and the obvious conclusion is that he's making them up, embroidering details into his scant family history. Occasionally he cops to this, saying e.g. "...And now I have to enter Father Mike's head, I'm afraid. I feel myself being sucked in and I can't resist." (What a great idea it is to make Father Mike be the scam artist.) Other times the embellishments are just presented as part of the story. Cal's desire for an integral back-story to his life, a history without holes, makes a really compelling framework for the book.
Drop me a line! or, sign my Guestbook.
Check out Ellen's writing at Patch.com.