The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides – Book Review

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.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Personal copy.

* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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College in a Nutskull edited by Anders Henriksson – Book Review

College in a Nutskull edited by Anders Henriksson

You know those books about funny malapropisms that kids make? The ones that almost make you cringe because they show such a lack of either thought or education?

Okay, well, imagine one of those, but filled with things that college students have written on tests. Such a book is “College in a Nutskull.”

Anders Henriksson, a professor at Shepherd College in West Virgina, has collected some of the most completely absurd things that college students around the United States have ever written on exams, and put them into this book, organized by subject and designed to look like a spiral-bound notebook. Some of my favorites:

John McCane’s biggest mistake was to think that Sara Palin could cattle pout him into the White House

Life in the trenches was very dangerous due to constant attacks by submarines.

Fascism is where your social life is totally on Facebook.

When I first received this book, I wasn’t really sure it would appeal to me. Then I sat down and began flipping through it, and had a hard time putting it down! Reading it a section or two at a time, I finished this entire book in a single day. Normally these types of books made me cringe, but this one was so funny (cattle pout? hilarious!) that funny beat out sad for me. Of course there were some cringe-worthy moments too (note to all college students, fascism has nothing to do with Facebook!), but on the balance I really enjoyed “College in a Nutskull.”

Give this book to your favorite graduate – if only to make sure that they don’t think any of this makes sense!

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*

This review was done with a book received unsolicited from the publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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