Oh, Jeffrey Eugenides, will I ever judge a book of yours fairly after you’ve written Middlesex? This is something of a theme in my reviews in part because I’ll buy books based on the strength of the author’s name if I’ve fallen in love with one of their works, and then they end up in my “I’ll get around to it” pile. But man, I honestly feel guilty with Eugenides because Middlesex is so damn perfect nothing will ever measure up. It’s a top five – maybe top three – for me, and it’s unfair to ask anything to compare, but let’s be real; I bought this hoping it would be another Middlesex and nothing could be.
On its own merits, the book reminds me quite a bit of Ian McEwan’s Saturday (which I reviewed earlier) only more so; the prose is exquisite but has only intermittent truths and a weak overall theme to reveal.
Following Madeleine, an English major, and her romantic entanglements with a charismatic manic depressive student and an academic searching for spiritual fulfillment in the 1980s, the narrative initially seems to ask how literature shapes our romantic expectations. Though it returns to this theme in its final section, it pleasantly meanders in the middle, rendering the book somewhat less than cohesive. The sections on Leonard’s mental illness are vividly realized, though they seem to belong to another novel entirely. And, as always, Eugenides writes so beautifully that I’d read all the books he seems to be writing here. But I can’t help but wish for another one as layered and delicately organized as middlesex.