Monday, September 25, 2006

Middlesex

It occurred to me today that I'm not as far along as I thought. Writing my story isn't the courageous act of liberation I had hoped it would be. Writing is solitary, furtive, and I know all about those things... Still, you can only do what you're able. If this story is written only for myself, then so be it. But it doesn't feel that way. I feel you out there, reader. This is the only kind of intimacy I'm comfortable with. Just the two of us, here in the dark.
pg. 319 in my edition (The Obscure Object)

The thing I liked most about Middlesex is the amazing way the author is able to cram so much actual information about the humanity of intersex individuals, the science, the politics, the individual heritage... into a story that is fun all in itself with writing that is almost poetry. I've thought in the past it would be fun to write a book in a similar style. I could call it "the secret lives of gay Mormon bloggers" and make up characters whose personal lives would commonly bring them to blog about their experiences and meet each other online. Their circumstances would be unique and take advantage of parallelism to contrast choices, ideas, and paths. Of course, I would have a hard time thinking of anything nearly as compelling as the real life examples I already have!

And then there's the other problem. I'm not such a great writer. I decided long ago when I started this blog that it was more of a journal than a place to publish good writing. If I waited until an idea was well-formulated and well-articulated to get it out there, there would be precious little to publish. And I wanted to share ideas in the raw and get advice back in the raw. It has worked pretty well overall. But I do long to join Fob's writing group. Or even spend a little more deliberate effort in making my story more enjoyable to read... more engaging.

There were times in Middlesex when I wanted him to just get on with things. He would take pages and pages to describe something and I would be inpatient to move the story forward. Once I accepted his style for what it is and slowed down, I enjoyed it a lot more. And his style does have the advantage of stirring and stimulating parts of my brain that would otherwise lie idle. Take this passage:
From the slender wrists of these girls, tiny silver charms were chiming together. It was the ringing of tiny tennis rackets against tiny snow skis, of miniature Eiffel Towers against half-inch ballerinas on point. It was the sound of Tiffany frogs and whales chiming together; of puppies tinkling against cats, of seals with balls on their noses hitting monkeys with hand organs, of wedges of cheese ringing against clowns' faces, of strawberries singing with inkwells, of valentine hearts striking the bells around the necks of Swiss cows... The Charm Bracelets: they were the rulers of my new school.

If I were conjuring an image of the ruling class of girls in the school I might say something about charm bracelets and lip gloss and think I had done a great descriptive job. But something about the unnecessary detail is just... enjoyable and stimulating.

Anyway, more posts to come on Middlesex...

6 comments:

santorio said...

when middlesex came out i dismissed it out of hand because i unfairly assumed that it would be exploitative or voyeuristic or sensationalistic. instead i found a totally believable main character. sure, the story line exaagerates to make a point, but cal is very real to me.

in our blogs i wonder if i know the line between truth and fiction but like oprah, i'm not too sure if it makes any difference. jonah, job, lot's wife? if a story reveals an honest understanding of my world, i'll go with it. i might read a very accurate biography of donald trump, but i doubt that its adherence to facts would make it a worthwhile read.

Anonymous said...

I loved the book as well. Often what seem like unnecessary details are referenced later on in the story creating a beautiful coherence and intertwining unity to the narrative. If I remember correctly, he does just that with the charm bracelets.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the author’s languid flow of words, which filled space and created human scenes of interest and complexity. Based in the universal theme of ‘self identity’, Middlesex proved that the oft torturous journey of the hermaphrodite Calliope in becoming the man Cal, is a journey not beyond the commonality of larger community.

I rate books by how long they emotionally stay with me after the story’s done and if they force me to stay up till one to finish them. I never stayed up past by bedtime to read into the next chapter, but I was mentally satisfied, due to the word smithing and I enjoyed the journey but the end left me unsatisfied. As such the story did not stay for more than a day.

My overall personal rating, based upon two thumbs-up, would be 1 ½ thumbs up. Which equates that I would recommend the book but only to people of above average ability (due to the complexity of the issue), but I would probably not read it again myself. I might try the writer again just because I liked his writing ability.

Loyalist (with defects)

-L- said...

Santorio, I probably never would have read this book except that it was so highly recommended. I still had my reservations, but it ended up being very different from what I expected.

I liked it.

johngalt said...

Middlesex is a ferris wheel, from top to bottom, from breathtaking vistas to mud; Cal puts me in his pocket and lets me ride it with him. I love how Eugenides follows the "defective" gene from history to present. It's brilliant. Yes, he can be overly descriptive but at the same time leaves out certain details, forcing us to look within ourselves for the missing pieces. Once the story enters into Cal's present life, I found perceptive parallels to many of my own feelings. Like Santorio said, Cal is very real to me.
Eugenides' prose is both patient and engaging, a complex medley. His story line is not forced, regardless of how sensational the story becomes. Out of 5 stars, this gets a 4&1/2 from me.

Master Fob said...

Thanks, I'm flattered. Whenever you live within driving distance of me you are welcome to become an official Fob.

And you realize, of course, that the goal of fiction writing is not to compete with reality, but to steal from reality. The fact that you have compelling real world stories to work with is an asset.