Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Life as a Girl When You're a Boy

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Life as a Girl When You're a Boy

Article excerpt

Byline: ALEXANDER LINKLATER

MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides (Bloomsbury, [pound]16.99) IN the habitual way that US publishing will suddenly hurl out a name to keep up the stride of the great American novel, Jeffrey Eugenides has been identified as the next stepping stone along from Jonathan Franzen. It doesn't wholly matter whether the ensuing literary chatter is matched by the actual substance of such writers; it has the effect of lending American fiction momentum - a feeling that the novel as a form is going somewhere.

One direction it's going in, if Franzen and Eugenides are useful indicators (and not merely well-marketed products of the same US publishing house), is right back home to full-scale realism. The Corrections and Middlesex are heaving social and family chronicles which produce the pleasant effect of snuffing out the memory of postmodernism. Don DeLillo feels dreamlike by comparison; Thomas Pynchon a recurring nightmare from the 1980s.

In the case of Jeffrey Eugenides, this produces a joyous sensation of familiarity, like watching period drama with contemporary production values.

Middlesex is a three-generation, 20th century immigrant epic which takes two lovers from the ruins of the old world into the commercial ferment at the heart of the new one.

The lovers struggle to adapt, the enterprising children go into business (bringing their colourful nationality to the cultural melting pot) and then the grandchild retells the saga of the family's assimilation into the American way of life.

The comfort of this narrative figure-of-eight is, however, as superficial as the idea that the American character is merely the result of self-invention.

The central narrator and protagonist of Middlesex is no familiar archetype of American literature, but a hermaphrodite.

Cal's story does indeed begin on the waterfront of a war-torn city on the edge of Europe, yet the two Greek lovers who are his/her grandparents, and who make their escape from the flames of Smyrna after the Turkish onslaught of 1922, are brother and sister. …

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