Books for Movie Lovers: Jeffrey Eugenides’ ‘Middlesex’

By  · Published on November 19th, 2011

It may come as a huge surprise to some of you that we here at Film School Rejects also like to (occasionally) put down our tablets and iPhones and Boysenberries and iWhatevers and lappytops and actually pick up a real book instead – made of paper and everything! And we’d like you to take some time to flip through some bound pages and acquire knowledge the old-fashioned way. That said, may I humbly recommend Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Middlesex”?

Eugenides’ debut novel, “The Virgin Suicides,” is a particular favorite of mine. If you’re book-adverse, you may still recognize it from the big screen – Sofia Coppola adapted it for her feature debut. Talk about a book about virginity (guffaw). The author has also recently published his third novel, “The Marriage Plot,” just last month. But why then am I recommending his middle novel, the heavy hitter, the tome, Eugenides’ crack at an epic? Why not one of the smaller, simpler ones?

Because it’s the best one.

A big, sprawling, time-spanning epic about the Stephanides family and their trials, tribulations, and stunning mistakes, “Middlesex” center on Eugenides’ most fully formed and sympathetic character, Calliope “Cal” Stephanides. Eugenides knows how to steadily build his characters, but Cal is an entity unto herself. Or, if you know more about the book, to himself. Intrigued yet?

Eugenides’ novels all pay particular attention to the steady influence of popular culture in his characters’ lives (they all so rarely notice just how much a product of their particular generation they are, but readers can’t escape it), mental illness, tenuous (and sometimes tortuous) family bonds, and the often destructive nature of love. But what Eugenides really excels at is crafting characters who are slaves to seemingly temporary situations and feelings – so enslaved to those situations and feelings that they often react in irreversible and permanent ways. The Lisbon sisters of “Virgin Suicides” react to their suffocating unsatisfying teenagehoods by committing (spoiler alert?) mass suicide. Recent college graduate Madeleine Hanna of “The Marriage Plot” shuns personal responsibility to care for a man she thinks she loves, wrecking havoc on her entire adult life in the process.

But in no other book of Eugenides’ does the concept of permanent acts go further than in “Middlesex.” The Stephanides siblings of “Middlesex,” Lefty and Desdemona, react to orphanhood, war, and poverty by forming a relationship that goes entirely beyond a traditional sibling bond, one that has repercussions that spread through generations. They are not the only victims, but they are also not the only survivors.

While the rights to “Middlesex” were sold to HBO back in 2009 (along with rumors of it being adapted into a one-hour drama series), it’s yet to receive a cinematic or televised adaptation. However, “The Marriage Plot” has already seen its rights go to Scott Rudin, in a sale that happened within mere weeks of the book’s release. It’s much more likely that we’ll see a “Marriage Plot” film before we get a “Middlesex” series, and that’s mostly due to the book’s staggering size and scope. It’s a true epic, one deserving of a longer, richer adaptation. But until then? Put down the remote. Pick up a book.

At the very least, it will send you into a family-laden holiday time with a deep sense of gratitude that you’re not a Stephanides.