Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On becomming whole


I was drawn to this book for the most personal reason: I'm a very sexual creature. That's not to say I sleep around or I display deviant carnal behaviors, or that I'm horny all the time. Erotic experiences to me can be considered another form of intellectual stimulation, something that I always single-handedly seek in my life (which is probably why I enjoyed Lost Girls by Alan Moore so much, particularly his characterization of Alice Fairchild), and I never had any fear or restraint about exploring my sexuality growing up (though physical applications only happened in college but I was already self-taught on the theories as early as ten years old).

Now I've read Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides first, which I liked so I was eager to read him again and it was really lucky that Middlesex is a story about a hermaphrodite character in his/her quest to figure out identity and sexuality. I've always been interested in subjects such as that after all, considering I have firsthand experiences of my own I could contextualize Middlesex with. As I read through the course of the novel, I find myself really appreciating Eugenides' prose style as he delved into the fragile psyche of Callie, a teenage girl who knew that she was not quite like other girls. Her physiological ambiguity affected her tremendously as she dealt with other stages of change in any adolescent, and yet she was ten times more conflicted, vulnerable and helplessly alone than the average teen in puberty. Her body was completely foreign to her and her growing attraction with a female friend is starting to leave her unhinged. Callie didn't choose to be raised as a girl but that's exactly what her parents did, and it's only unfortunate that it turns out to be the wrong gender for Callie. And so begins Callie's journey to find freedom to decide for herself whether she wants to stay a woman or become a man.

Middlesex was not just a story about sexual identity. It also discussed racial and ethnic relations, and Euguenides employed some Greek mythology allusions while we join Callie in discovering who she is in all aspects of her individuality. By the end of the novel, she did choose to become a man and proceeded to live her life as Cal Stephanides, but it wasn't an easy process to integrate himself in because Cal knew that he was still biologically androgynous, and people will not always be accepting and understanding about his existence because it is so frighteningly unique and abnormal, and could even be a testament against every norm human beings are accustomed to. But in the grand scheme of things, Cal realized that his victory did not lie whether or not people and society itself would perceive him positively, but with the secure knowledge that at least he owns his life and he has every right to live it in whatever way it pleases him. The pressures of complying and conforming to what civilizations have agreed to be "the natural state of things" for a long time are not only Cal's problem but also our own at point in our lives when we want to aspire for greater lengths but everybody seems to clip our wings.

With that in mind, I could say that Middlesex is an inspirational tale that reassures us in some way that despite the world's seemingly atrocious mission to turn us like everybody else, we can rise above that and forge our own paths even if it means we need to walk them alone to gain better perspectives and appreciation for what makes us original. By the end of the day, Cal is able to look at himself in the mirror and love the reflection that stares back at him and we should all hope to have that kind of serenity and peace within ourselves.

Other themes such as rebirth and nature-versus-nurture were also highlights of the novel. Callie making a conscious choice of becoming Cal was quite heartbreaking in the most beautiful sense and as a reader, we should consider it a great opportunity to travel his lonely road and accompany him as he undergoes transcendence from his tragic circumstances. Perhaps in seeing his story unfold the way it had, we may find that we could also possess the same kind of courage that will allow us take more control of our choices. It certainly made me a braver person after finishing the book.

RECOMMENDED: 9/10
* It was a slow build-up at first, sometimes muddled with lots of labyrinth passages, but once the pacing found a more comfortable voice, Callie/Cal's story became an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.
  

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