Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Oh Those Pulitzers

Slowly but surely I'm working my way toward completing my goal of reading all the Fiction Pulitzer Prize Winners!

The 2011 winner, A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, was, quite honestly, confusing and hard to follow. There are lots of characters and the story moves back and forth through time, across many years, and it's often difficult to determine who a particular chapter is about until several pages in. In fact, there are some characters who appear once and don't add anything to or are barely related to the original story. Basically, the story begins with Sasha, who is on a date and steals a ladies wallet while she's in the bathroom. Throughout the book, we learn snippets of her story (as a teenager she spent time broke wandering around Milan, she was a chronic thief, etc). Through one chapter that is written completely as a PowerPoint presentation, we learn that she eventually married and had kids. I didn't enjoy the story, the format or the characters, so I obviously don't recommend this book.

I had no idea what to expect when I picked up Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (the 2003 winner) from the library. This is an extremely well-written story with lots of details, flashbacks, and descriptions that are easy to follow .... despite the unique topic. The book is written from the perspective of Cal, a 41-year-old male living in Germany. Cal is a hermaphrodite - someone who has both male and female organs. I was not familiar with this term before reading this book, so I learned something new.

When Cal was born, the doctor announced that his parents had a girl, and he was raised as Callie until it was discovered that "she" had male organs at the age of 14. In a way, this was a relief because Callie had unusual feelings for other girls and didn't understand what was happening to her body. However, at this point, well into the book, she runs away from a hotel in New York (after reading the doctor's report) and spends several months in California. Before this, the story, while somewhat eccentric, was believable as Cal reported on his life and middle-class upbringing in Detroit; while this discovery was obviously life-changing, it did not seem to suit Callie's personality to up and run away across the country.

There is a lot of background information in the book about how the mutation that caused this condition came about - basically through lots of inbreeding from the Greek island where his grandparents grew up. In fact, his grandparents were brother and sister who "married" on the boat to America and kept their secret for many years. Obviously with all the explanations, there are some explicit scenes in this book, yet they are done in a way that doesn't distract from the story. Honestly, this was an interesting read if not necessarily something that I would have chosen or plan to read again.


  1. I just finished reading Jennifer Eagan's new book, Manhattan Beach, which I loved. I'd not read any of her earlier books, but this one was beautifully written, and so interesting. Our book group read Middlesex years ago, and it's one of the few books I never finished. Not because I didn't like it, but I just didn't have the time right then to devote to it, and I never got back to it.

  2. I enjoy reading your reviews of these Pulitzer winners.


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