The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Published by Farrar, Straus,and Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan
From the publisher:
It’s the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.
As Madeleine tries to understand why “it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth-century France,” real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead—charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy—suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old “friend” Mitchell Grammaticus—who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange—resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.
Madeleine is a fantastically familiar character to book lovers, and the connection becomes particularly poignant as her situation mirrors the marriage plot, that hallmark of her favorite literature. By reviving that form and making an English major the heroine, Eugenides creates in The Marriage Plot a fabulously meta narrative. Meta, though, is not enough to carry a book, and fortunately in The Marriage Plot, it doesn’t have to.
In many ways, what Eugenides is attempting here is quieter and less ambitious than Middlesex (really, how could it not be less ambitious than a multi-generational epic with a hermaphrodite as the main character?), but no less wonderful. Eugenides brings all three of his main characters to life in a wonderful, flawed way. For much of the book, I found myself greatly preferring Madeleine and Mitchell, as they narrate the majority of the story. Leonard, with his bipolar disorder, is a much tougher character to get a good feel for, but once Eugenides allows him to tell his own story, he becomes just as human and accessible, even in his mania. The writing is constantly engaging, by the second section The Marriage Plot becomes increasingly difficult to put down, as infused as it is with human emotion, and as invested as the reader becomes.
Do not pick up The Marriage Plot unless you are ready to become emotionally involved in the lives of the characters, but do pick it up if you are looking for a fabulous read. It is a very strong, well-written book, sure to appeal to book lovers.
Source: Personal copy.
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