Middlesex - July Meetup (Silver Spring)

Our book for July is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.  This 2002 novel won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, in addition to being a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the International Dublin Literary Award, and France's Prix Médicis.

Following the life and self-discovery of Calliope Stephanides, or later, Cal, an intersex person raised a girl, but hormonally a boy, Middlesex also broadly deals with the Greek-American immigrant experience in the United States, the rise and fall of Detroit, and explores the experience of an intersex person in the USA.

The novel chronicles the impact of a mutated gene on three generations of a Greek family, causing momentous changes in the protagonist's life.  The novel's main themes are nature versus nurture, rebirth, and the differing experiences of polar opposites—such as those found between men and women.  It discusses the pursuit of the American Dream and explores gender identity. The novel contains many allusions to Greek mythology, including creatures such as the Minotaur, half-man and half-bull, and the Chimera, a monster composed of various animal parts.

If more than 12 people show up to the Meetup, we will break into two groups, with a volunteer moderating the second group.

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  • Kate E.

    Some interesting stuff here regarding intersex children:
    Should We 'Fix' Intersex Children?
    Standard medical practice is often to operate to "normalize" genitals, but some families are fighting back.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/07/should-we-fix-intersex-children/373536/

    July 20, 2014

    • Sherri

      In re MC is a stunning case. One of the main defendants is someone who invited me to a conference held in the late 90's to discuss clinical management of intersex children. I'm a lawyer by training and at the time cautioned the physicians/surgeons in attendance that if they continue to surgically alter intersex infants' genitals there would inevitably be lawsuits raising issues of lack of informed consent. What makes this a particularly compelling case is that MC was a ward of the State of South Carolina at the time of the surgery. I'm a strong supporter of AIC, which was instrumental in getting this lawsuit off the ground.

      July 20, 2014

    • Kate E.

      I read about the case management of intersex infants in college in a women's studies course and decided right then and there that I'd never permit my child's genitals to be altered in this manner. Didn't come up with my two. I'm less sure about whether I'd let a trans child take hormone blockers to prevent puberty. (Though my son wore dresses in preschool, and not just in play, and wears his hair long now, he's never said he was a girl, so I don't think it's going to come up for me, either.)

      July 21, 2014

  • Mitch

    Regarding the "stolen story" issue. This is an ongoing controversy in the arts. For example, when Miss Saigon premiered on Broadway, there were individuals insisting that the parts of Asian characters be played by Asian actors. My reaction to that was, isn't the essence of acting to pretend to be someone you're not. In a way, the novelist is also an actor. Perhaps the extreme of this way of thinking is novels about novelists writing novels (e.g., Philip Roth's Zuckerman series) or movies about movie directors making movies (Fellini's 8 and a half, et al.), and I really don't think we need any more of those.

    July 20, 2014

    • Sherri

      Authors shouldn't have to write only about topics with which they've had personal experience, but Eugenides didn't interview intersex people in writing this book despite doing years of "research" to tell Cal's story. The problem is it shows. Middlesex is a credible effort to bring more visibility to intersex but it's flawed in several respects in part because Eugenides didn't bother to tap the source for information.

      July 20, 2014

    • Kate E.

      Good point.

      July 21, 2014

  • Keith R. B.

    Sherri, thanks for adding reality to the fiction. I got to like the Cal/Caliope character.

    July 19, 2014

  • Sherri

    As an intersex woman, I have a special connection to the book, but the many interesting themes that run through it also captured my interest. If anyone is interested in learning more about intersex I can answer many, if not most, questions, provide some context to Cal's experiences, and share what's happening to today's intersex infants and adolescents.

    July 18, 2014

    • Sherri

      Oops oops must have hit reply before I'd intended. 5-alpha reductase deficiency (5-aRD) is an autosomal recessive condition and therefore is more likely to occur in areas of the world where there is greater collateral consanguinity among parents. It is more prevalent in Papua, New Guinea and the Dominican Republic. 5-aRD is similar to 17-beta hydroxysteroid hydrogenase deficiency, which is far more common among a small Arab population in Gaza, for the same reason. The NIH says this concerning the incidence of 17-beta:

      July 19, 2014

    • Sherri

      17-beta hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase 3 deficiency is a rare disorder. Researchers have estimated that this condition occurs in approximately 1 in 147,000 newborns. It is more common in the Arab population of Gaza, where it affects 1 in 200 to 300 people.

      July 19, 2014

  • Keith R. B.

    Another enjoyable evening of interesting conversation.

    July 18, 2014

  • Mitch

    One of the better books we've read.

    2 · July 18, 2014

  • Kim K

    Just want to thank the TPBCMG for their great hospitality--I didn't feel like a newbie at all--everyone was truly warm and welcoming--great book and great people!
    Kim

    1 · July 17, 2014

  • Kate E.

    I'm about halfway and pretty bored; thinking of giving up but I was wondering if anyone else had this problem with the first half and found it got better? The writing is pretty good, so if he could make me care I'd be willing to try to get to the end by Thursday.

    1 · July 14, 2014

    • Kate E.

      But did you feel that way from the beginning? I'm definitely noticing some lovely little moments, but they're punctuation on stuff I find yawnable.

      July 16, 2014

    • Mark

      @Kate, yeah I liked it from the beginning, more or less. For me, the narrative style propelled me.

      July 16, 2014

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