Monday, May 15, 2017


By Jeffrey Eugenides

Callie was born a male. But due to his lack of testicles and minuscule penis, he was misidentified as a female. So his parents, believing he was a girl, raised him as a girl. Which was fine. He was a very pretty little girl and did all the girly things most little girls do. But then when he didn't go through the usual transformations that occur to most young teen girls, his parents decided to take him to a specialist in New York City.  The doctor recommends to the parents that Callie have surgery to remove his undescended testicles and put him on hormone therapy and  let him live out his life as the female he has been raised to be.
But Callie reads his medical file and suddenly his life makes sense: his attraction to girls, his budding mustache, his gangly body, his height.  And he runs away to California.
But before we get to this point in the story, we have to delve into Callie's antecedents. We have to learn about his grandparents, brother and sister, who fled Europe to the safety of America. We have to follow them as they get married (to each other!), have two kids and settle in Detroit. Then there is their son, Milton, who marries a cousin, Tessie and who gives birth to two sons, one of whom is Callie who they think is a girl. It takes almost 200 pages for the story to even get to the moment of Callie's birth. Then we have to read about her childhood before we get to the meat of the story, Callie's struggle to understand the truth about himself.

This book is really a family saga and is more concerned about the story of the whole family than it is about the story of Callie's sexual identity.  I wanted the story of Callie, not the story of the whole family. Two hundred pages into a five hundred page novel and Callie is only briefly touched on, which was rather annoying. For me, the story didn't really get that interesting until it focused more on Callie and less on her family.
Also, this novel is described, by some, as a comedy and as a comic epic, as hilarious, funny, playful. I didn't find it to be any of those things.
For another review, see

The story of Callie reminded me of David Reimer. He was a boy whose penis was accidentally removed as a baby and who, as a result, was castrated and raised as a girl until he rebelled and reclaimed his male identity. I wonder if Eugenides based his novel on David's tragic story.

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