Book Club Discussion: Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Welcome to our first Hope Studios' Book Club Discussion!

Our book for this month was Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides.  I followed this book club outline  to help guide this discussion.

I will go ahead and post the discussion questions and then answer them in the comments just like you to get the discussion rolling.  I have a "reply" button at the end of each comment, so you can feel free to respond to any comment you wish.

Middlesex Discussion Questions:

1.     Cal wasn't even born until Book III, more than half way into the book, why do you think he felt compelled to tell so much of his parents' and grandparents' stories before telling about his own?

2.     Were you surprised by Lefty and Desdemona's courtship and marriage? Could you understand why they fell in love? Do you think their marriage was morally wrong? 

3.      Why do you think Tessie was drawn to Milton? 

4.     When Tessie and Milton decide to try to influence the sex of their baby, Desdemona disapproves. "God decides what baby is," she says. "Not you" (p. 13). What happens when characters in the novel challenge fate?

Do you believe this decision to influence the sex of the baby resulted in Cal's being of the "middlesex" or was it influenced by decisions of his parents and grandparents generations before he was ever conceived?

6.     How was it possible that Callie lived 14 years without someone catching on to the physical differences of her genitalia?  Could you imagine missing the physical clues as a parent to a baby born like Callie?

 5.     Why did Callie feel the need to run away after reading Dr. Luce's report? Do you think her parents could have accepted her decision not to have the surgery? Could Callie have changed her identity if she did not go out on her own?

6.      What is your opinion of Dr. Luce? 

7.     Was there any value to Cal working in the peep show?

8.      What is next for Cal?  Do you predict his relationship with Julie to last?

 ***Announcement for next book up for discussion at the end of November:  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn***


  1. This was a great book and I read it so fast that I want to re-read it and really think about it. I think it made all the difference in the storytelling that the author chose to wait for long to introduce Cal as a baby. It was interesting that the decisions made in Greece and on the trip to American influenced a family for two generations. Given the circumstances, I am not surprised that Lefty and Desdemona married. His near obsession with her, while growing up, that was a little unsettling.

    1. The early parts about Lefty getting turned on by his sister left me with the willies! Gross, but I guess she was the prettiest girl of all 3 available girls in the village! Still got the creeps

    2. Yeah, that weirded me out and then when they were doing "it" for the first time after they got married on the ship and she said, that he took his pants down and the life boat filled with the scent of mushroom.... ish I seriously about puked!

  2. Okay, first, this book took me forever to read for some reason! I actually started it about 2 years ago then put it down (very unusual for me) and picked it up recently because a transgender situation is happening in my son's middle school. I wanted more information so I decided to read this book.

    Though it was difficult to "get into" this book, I ended fascinated and ultimately enjoyed it.

    As disturbing as the peep show was (especially when you think about Cal being only 14) I think that experience, along with meeting others like himself, ultimately helped Cal accept himself as he was and gave him strength to continue with this path he had chosen to take.

    I feel like the thing with Julie might not work out. Not sure.

    I think the late introduction of Cal was part of the problem I had with the book in the beginning but I totally understood why it had to be this way.

    I guess I could see how Lefty and Des ended up together being from such a small village - also it seems like it was pretty common to intermarry there. However, the sibling thing even seems a stretch for that community.

    Now, when it moved on to Tessie and Milton getting together I clicked as to why there were birth defects down the road. They had no idea just how related they were, however!

    It seemed a little far fetched, even given the old fashioned dr. and the buttoned-up nature of the parents, that no one noticed the abnormalities of Callie's genitalia all those years. How can you change a diaper or have a check up and no one notices???

    I wondered while reading the book if Callie's situation would have been discovered earlier if she wasn't sooo beautiful as a small child? It seems like her beauty cemented her as a girl, even when other circumstances presented themselves later.

    I thought Dr. Luce was a creepy creep. Hated him. Wondered why she had to learn about herself by reading it.

    1. Sounds like I need to finish the book.....

    2. Looking at my answer it looks like I'm crazy - it looks like blogger published my comment out of order! The stuff I wrote at the end printed at the beginning!

  3. I thought this book was really well written and it's not a book I would have chosen to read on my own. Now, I want to read it a second time to pick up the stuff I missed the first time.

    I felt really sorry for Lefty and Desdemona-at the same time creeped out. I don't think Desdemona was in love with Lefty when he courted her. I got the feeling she thought it may be the only way to save Lefty from marrying badly. I do feel siblings marrying is morally wrong.

    Couldn't stand Jimmy Cismo (sp?)-when he was driving on the ice, accusing Lefty of impropriety, I thought I was going to bite a hole through my tongue! LIstening to his speeches/sermons later in the book was almost infuriating.

    I'll write more tomorrow-tonight we're battening down the hatches...

    1. I have to say I walked right into that twist of jimmy as the pastor of that church. I felt so dumb when it was revealed that I didn't catch on before!

    2. You're not alone-I didn't know either :-/

  4. I just finally finished it! It took me forever to get through this. Not because I didn't like it, it just wasn't exactly a quick read. I did feel like it dwelled on Lefty and Desdemona, Tessie and Milton for a little too long. I didn't really get invested until it got into Cal's life. I understand that we needed some background but it might have been a bit too much for me.

  5. Oh and the one thing that really bugged me about this book - the brother is called Chapter Eleven throughout the whole book and it never really fully explains that!!

    1. I felt the same way about really getting into it when Cal appeared.

      And why in the world did they call that kid Chapter 11? I kept waiting for an explanation!

    2. Okay I just looked the Chapter 11 thing up and here is a quote from the author from Oprah.com:

      "As for the meaning of the nickname, that's another story. The character of Chapter Eleven is introduced in the first pages of the novel but it's not until page 512 that Cal provides clues as to what this name means. There's a long passage where Cal sketches what will happen to his brother in the years to come, but, unlike just about every other Stephanides family story, Cal elects not to go into it. Still, the hints are there and include the maxing out of credit cards, etc., all of which point to a situation that might involve something known in U.S. tax law as Chapter 11."

      source: http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/Middlesex-QA#ixzz2B4DWaPmL

      **So, I guess, since adult Cal is telling the story he uses a name he adopted for his brother in adulthood. It is a little confusing!

    3. I kind of figured that was the explanation but it still really bugs me! I mean, he refers to himself as Calliope through the childhood years, why not refer to his brother by his childhood name? And if you're going to give someone a bizarre name like that I feel the author needs to offer readers more of an explanation than 500+ pages later giving you a very vague, glanced over hint.


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