This is the first chunkster crossed off my list, so hurrah! I’ll be amending my Readings Challenges page accordingly.
The book certainly has all of the quirks and coincidences typical of the Greek epic. People reappear in the most unusual places; there are too few characters so everyone is married to everyone else’s relatives (and sometimes their own!); and there are numerous lucky escapes. This is the sort of book that I love. It educated me about a history I knew only vaguely, particularly the occupation of Smyrna. The early sections in Greece in particular are a romp. The descriptions of a young Detroit, too, are fascinating. This scene-setting is something that Eugenides ‘long-winded’ style handles wonderfully well, and I only occasionally felt the novel dragging.
Cal forewarns us of his stereotypical ‘American’ turn towards the upbeat, rather than a tragic end. In fact, the detail of the almost-sexual relationship between adult Cal and Julie, a woman he meets in Berlin, feel entirely tacked on, as though ultimately the question of actual physical sex and, more to the point, the ‘expectation’ of PiV — vaginal intercourse — that has apparently (mostly implicitly) plagued Cal’s adult sex life has haunted the author’s mind because his narrator is intersex. It’s a shame, in a way, that this needs to be there. It would have been far more powerful, I think, had Cal already secured this relationship, or in fact secured several and been willing to tell us about them in all of their sexually various glory.