Honors and adaptation
In 2003, Middlesex was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Pulitzer Board[note 8] wrote in their report that Middlesex is a "vastly realized, multi-generational novel as highspirited as it is intelligent . . . Like the masks of Greek drama, Middlesex is equal parts comedy and tragedy, but its real triumph is its emotional abundance, delivered with consummate authority and grace." Eugenides was attending the Prague Writers' Festival when Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize. When a young Associated Press photographer notified him about winning the award, Eugenides was dubious, noting that "[i]t seemed very unlikely that he would be the messenger of such news." At the time, Eugenides was with the Canadian author Yann Martel who confirmed the photographer's words after checking on the hotel's computer. A waiter brought champagne to Eugenides, and Greek women started kissing him. When journalists called Eugenides, he declined to take their calls, saying in an interview later that he wanted to "celebrate the moment instead of leaping immediately into the media maelstrom".
The novel received the Ambassador Book Award, Spain's Santiago de Compostela Literary Prize, and the Great Lakes Book Award. In 2003, it was a finalist in the fictional category of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Middlesex was also a ﬁnalist for the Lambda Literary Award, which is given to LGBT literature. In 2003, the novel was shortlisted for but did not win the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times Book Review considered Middlesex to be one of the best books in 2002. In 2007, Oprah Winfrey chose Middlesex to be discussed in her book club. Eugenides was a guest on Oprah's show with several intersex individuals who told stories about their lives. In 2011, Eugenides was interviewed by University College London English professor John Mullan in The Guardian Book Club.
The audiobook version of Middlesex was released by Macmillan Audio in September 2002. Read by Kristoffer Tabori, the audiobook has 28 sides, each side having a unique style of introductory music that complements the atmosphere and plot of the saga. In 2003, the audiobook received an Audie Award in the "unabridged fiction" category.
Some critics were dissatisfied with the scope of the novel. Daniel Mendelsohn of The New York Times Book Review wrote that thematically, there was no reason that a Greek should be a hermaphrodite or vice versa and that Eugenides had two disconnected stories to tell. Caly Risen of Flak Magazine believed that the immigrant experience was the "heart of the novel", lamenting that it minimized the story of Callie/Cal who is such a "fascinating character that the reader feels short-changed by his failure to take her/him further". Risen wished to read more about the events between Cal's adolescence and adulthood, such as Cal's experience in college as a hermaphrodite as well as the relationships he had. The Washington Post 's Lisa Zeidner opined that Eugenides purposefully devised this asymmetry. Stewart O'Nan of The Atlantic also felt that the brief description of Callie's childhood was lacking; the book "gloss[es] over" how her mother did not recognize that Callie had male genitalia when she was washing or clothing Callie. Further, O'Nan characterized Cal's relationship with the Japanese-American photographer Julie as "underdeveloped", causing the reader not to experience its entirety. Michelle Vellucci of People had the same view about the novel's end, writing that the conclusion felt "rushed".
Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly called the novel a "big-hearted, restless story" and rated it an A minus. Lisa Zeidner of the Washington Post opined that Middlesex "provides not only incest à la Ada and a Lolita-style road trip, but enough dense detail to keep fans of close reading manically busy." Tami Hoag of People concurred, writing that "this feast of a novel is thrilling in the scope of its imagination and surprising in its tenderness". Andrew O'Hehir of Salon agreed, praising Middlesex as an "epic and wondrous" novel filled with numerous characters and historical occurrences. Mendelsohn praised Middlesex for its "dense narrative, interwoven with sardonic, fashionably postmodern commentary". However, he criticized the novel as a disjointed hybrid. He wrote Eugenides was successful with the story of the Greek immigrants, which he described as "authenti[c]", but mishandled the hermaphrodite material, which Mendelsohn characterized as "unpersuasiv[e]". The Economist review stated that a more concise, concentrated depiction of hermaphroditism would have made the book more "fun to read". Jeff Zaleski of Publishers Weekly praised Eugenides' portrayal of the girl, Callie, and the man Cal. Zaleski wrote that "[i]t's difficult to imagine any serious male writer of earlier eras so effortlessly transcending the stereotypes of gender." Paul Quinn of Contemporary Literary Criticism commended the novel, writing: "That Eugenides manages to move us without sinking into sentiment shows how successfully he has avoided the tentacles of irony which grip so many writers of his generation." Christina McCarroll of The Christian Science Monitor wrote that "Eugenides wrangles with a destiny that mutates and recombines like restless chromosomes, in a novel of extraordinary flexibility, scope, and emotional depth."
Marta Salij of the Detroit Free Press was impressed with the book's depiction of Detroit, writing "[a]t last Detroit has its novel. What Dublin got from James Joyce—a sprawling, ambitious, loving, exasperated and playful chronicle of all its good and bad parts—Detroit has from native son Eugenides in these 500 pages." David Kipen of the San Francisco Chronicle agreed, opining "[a]mong so many other things, this praiseworthy, prize-worthy yarn succeeds as a heartbroken mash note to the Detroit of Eugenides' birth, a city whose neighborhoods he sometimes appears to love—as he loves his characters—less for their virtues than for their defects. Any book that can make a reader actively want to visit Detroit must have one honey of a tiger in its tank.".
Several critics have nominated the book for the title of "Great American Novel". Tim Morris, a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, wrote that the novel was "the latest in a long line of contenders for the status of Great American Novel", and compared Cal to Huckleberry Finn, the narrator of Invisible Man, and J. Sutter in John Henry Days. Alexander Linklater of the Evening Standard commented that American publishers chose Middlesex as the next Great American Novel to generate progress for American fiction and that Eugenides is considered the "next stepping stone along from Jonathan Franzen". Dan Cryer of Newsday wrote that with the publication of Middlesex, "[f]inally, Detroit has its very own great American novel".
David Gates of Newsweek contrasted Eugenides' debut novel The Virgin Suicides with Middlesex, writing that the first novel was "ingenious", "entertaining", and "oddly moving", but that Middlesex is "ingenious", "entertaining", and "ultimately not-so-moving". Despite this criticism, Gates considered Middlesex to be the novel where Eugenides "finally plays his metafictional ace". Commenting that Middlesex is "more discursive and funnier" than The Virgin Suicides, Laura Miller of Salon wrote that the two novels deal with disunity. Max Watman of The New Criterion concurred, noting that Middlesex is "funny, big, embracing, and wonderful", unlike Eugenides' first novel. Mark Lawson of The Guardian praised Middlesex for having the same unique qualities as The Virgin Suicides, commenting that Middlesex had "an ability to describe the horrible in a comic voice, an unusual form of narration and an eye for bizarre detail". Lawson noted that whereas Middlesex deals with the "links" among gender, life, and genes, The Virgin Suicides deals with the "connections" between gender and death.
According to Olivia Banner of Signs, medical journals generally had positive reviews of the novel for its depiction of the inner lives of intersex people. Writing in Archives of Disease in Childhood, Simon Fountain-Polley praised the novel, writing: "All clinicians, and families who have faced gender crises or difﬁcult life-changing decision[s] on identity should read this book; delve into an emotional trip of discovery—where the slightest direction change could lead to myriad different lives". Abraham Bergman wrote in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine: "Yes, it is fiction, but I cannot imagine a more authentic and sensitive voice. Because our interactions usually take place in limited and structured setting such as offices and hospitals, pediatricians have scant opportunity to learn how our young patients think. One way to sharpen our awareness is to listen to children's voices as they are expressed in books. In Middlesex, the voice is loud and clear." Banner noted that most of the reviews in intersex and queer publications praised Middlesex. She posited that the problematic issues of a "heteromasculine-identified narrator" and the "fact that it was authored by a heterosexual man" may have been outweighed by the necessity for an appropriate reading that "destigmatizes ambiguous sex".
Eugenides' third novel, The Marriage Plot, was published in 2011. Reviewer William Deresiewicz contrasted The Marriage Plot and Middlesex, writing that the former was "far more intimate in tone and scale". The Marriage Plot follows two years in the lives of three characters, fourth-year Brown University students in 1982, whereas Middlesex follows the lives of three generations of characters. Deresiewicz preferred the 2011 novel, writing that "[t]he books are far apart in quality". He criticized Middlesex for its "[c]lanking prose, clunky exposition, transparent devices, telegraphed moves", "a hash of narrative contrivances with very little on its mind". On a more positive note, Deresiewicz lauded Eugenides' colorful depiction of "young love" across his three novels. In The Virgin Suicides, Eugenides resplendently portrayed the intense fear during virginal sex, as well as Gabriel García Márquez, the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate; in Middlesex, the single event in which the novel "comes to life" is Eugenides' depiction of Callie's liaison with her adolescent lover; and in The Marriage Plot, the novel was exceptional in its "sweet banter of courtship" and the "doormat nice-boy role" the character Mitchell assumes in his interplay with his darling, Madeleine.
From the book's publication until the early months of 2003, its sales were unsatisfactory, according to Bill Goldstein of The New York Times.[note 9] In the week following April 7, 2003, the day Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize, the book sold 2,700 copies. The book later made the best-selling fiction list and kept its position for five weeks. In June 2007, the novel ranked seventh on USA Today 's Best-Selling Books list. In the same month, after Eugenides appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss the novel, Middlesex placed second on The New York Times best-selling paperback fiction list. The Pulitzer award nearly propelled Middlesex to The New York Times Best Seller list, which in 2003 published only the top 15 bestsellers; in the week after Middlesex was announced the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the novel placed 17th on the "expanded list". In 2007, 1.3 million copies of the book had been sold. The same year, the book placed ninth on the Library Journal bestsellers list, which ranks "the books most borrowed in U.S. libraries". By May 2011, over three million copies of Middlesex had been sold.