The rims of Clementine’s eyes were inflamed. She yawned. She rubbed her nose with the heel of her hand. And then she asked, “Do you want to practice kissing?”
I didn’t know what to answer. I already knew how to kiss, didn’t I? Was there something more to learn? But while these questions were going through my head, Clementine was going ahead with the lesson. She came around to face me. With a grave expression she put her arms around my neck.
The necessary special effects are not in my possession, but what I’d like for you to imagine is Clementine’s white face coming close to mine, her sleepy eyes closing, her medicine-sweet lips puckering up, and all the other sounds of the world going silent — the rustling of our dresses, her mother counting leg lifts downstairs, the airplane outside making an exclamation mark in the sky — all silent, as Clementine’s highly educated, eight-year-old lips met mine.
And then, somewhere below this, my heart reacting.
Not a thump exactly. Not even a leap. But a kind of swish, like a frog kicking off from a muddy bank. My heart, that amphibian, moving that moment between two elements: one, excitement; the other, fear. I tried to pay attention. I tried to hold up my end of things. But Clementine was way ahead of me. She swiveled her head back and forth the way actresses did in the movies. I started doing the same, but out of the corner of her mouth she scolded, “You’re the man.” So I stopped. I stood stiffly with arms at my sides. Finally Clementine broke off the kiss. She looked at me blankly a moment, and then responded, “Not bad for your first time.”
I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974 ...My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver's license ...records my first name simply as Cal.' So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Point, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret, and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.
About the AuthorJeffrey Eugenides is the author of The Virgin Suicides. He lives in Berlin.
PrizesWinner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for FictionJeffrey Eugenides' new novel, The Marriage Plot, will be published by Fourth Estate on 13th October 2011 Selected for Oprah's Book Club 2007 165,000 copies sold (Nielsen BookScan)