I did not mean to suggest in Monday’s post the Middlesex is melodramatic. It is, but not in a bad way. It is a book that I both love and hate—love because it is so good and hate because it is so good, in the same way that I both loved and hated The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
I read the latter several summers ago, aboard the something-of-the-Seas cruise ship. I’d pick up a collection of Atwood’s short stories several summers before that, thinking she was the sort of author I ought to read, and had been unimpressed (then again, I am unimpressed with short stories in general, which is a bit of a problem for an aspiring novelist who has published plenty of non-fiction but not an ounce of made-up prose in her life); The Handmaid’s Tale, however, was something all together different.
I wept, right there in the windowless cabin that was all we could afford.
“The ending…” I sobbed to my boyfriend-at-the-time. “It was… s-s-s-sooo brilliant. What if I’m never able to write anything that good?”
Dutiful cheerleader (and father) that he was, he wrapped me in his arms and quoted Finding Nemo (“Just keep swimming…”) and because we had some sort of dinner or another to get ready for, I eventually pulled myself together and that was that.
But Middlesex fills me with that same abject fear—What if I’m never able to write anything this good?— just as the story of Calliope/Cal, it’s Greek hermaphrodite narrator, entrances me, hour after hour.
This is partially the fault of the flowers tucked behind my door on Sunday night. They were, despite the developments of the past few months, a surprise, and a small part of me thought they might have been left by an axe murderer- an axe murderer who was, at that very moment, lurking in my basement or one of the spare bedrooms
Nonetheless, I texted the most likely candidate to thank say thank you, cut the stems, put them in a vase and brushed my teeth. Said candidate, however, had already fallen asleep, and in my dreams, when I called to inquire about the flowers, he knew nothing about them. I awoke in a cold sweat to the creaking of floor boards. It could have been my neighbor’s floor boards actually, or the wind playing tricks with the skylight vent in my bathroom, but you can never be sure so I armed myself with a coffee mug and crept downstairs to grab my pepper spray, all the while reasoning with myself:
Why would an axe murderer leave flowers?
Where exactly in my heavily mortgaged 900 square feet would he be hiding?
And if he (if indeed the intruder was a he) was going to kill me, wouldn’t he have done it already?
In the end, I turned to Middlesex.
And thus I was reminded (as I am ashamed to have forgotten in the first place) of just what a good book can do. Several hours later, I finally fell back to sleep: peacefully although not at all happily because A) I still have several hundred pages to go and B) Jeffrey Eugenides is a damn good writer.