Like the Greek drama cuff links that Cal's father wears, Middlesex has two faces – one comedic, the other tragic – and the novel turns the story of Cal's coming of age into an uproarious epic, at once funny and sad, about misplaced identities and family secrets … Cal (or Calliope, as he was known when he was a girl) is a wonderfully engaging narrator: long-winded, perhaps, but capable of discoursing with equal verve and wit on everything from Greek politics to girls' makeup to the typology of presidential names … Mr. Eugenides has a keen sociological eye for 20th-century American life...But it's his emotional wisdom, his nuanced insight into his characters' inner lives, that lends this book its cumulative power.
There's the gap between male and female, obviously, but also between Greek and WASP, black and white, the old world and the new, the silver spoon and the sluggish sperm. Finally, there is the tug of war between destiny and free will – an age-old concern of Greek storytellers, as every college freshman learns, reborn in the theories advanced by evolutionary psychology … Eugenides pitches a big tent, but one of the delights of Middlesex is how soundly it's constructed, with motifs and characters weaving through the novel's various episodes, pulling it tight.
Eugenides’s novel seems itself to be composed of two distinct and occasionally warring halves. One part has to do with hermaphrodites—with Callie’s condition, and how she comes to discover what she ‘really’ is. The other, far more successful part has to do with Greeks—and, in a way, Greekness. Far more colorful than the story of what Callie is, is the story of how she came to be that way—the story of why this child came to inherit the exceedingly rare and fateful gene that ends up defining her indefinable life … A major problem with Middlesex is that there’s nothing all that interesting or distinctive about either half of the main character: one is a fairly ordinary Midwestern girl (except, perhaps, for her growing tendency to develop crushes on other girls), the other an all-too-typically sardonic, post-everything American male.