The Marriage Plot
by Jeffrey Eugenides
When I read summaries of The Marriage Plot it doesn’t sound that interesting to me. Three Ivy League college kids in the ‘80s graduate and try to figure out what to do with their lives. First there’s Madeleine, a clever girl, except when it comes to love. Then there’s Leonard, the passionate, but troubled man she falls for. Finally we have Mitchell, the intellectual who struggles with the question of faith and his unrequited love for Madeleine. It just doesn’t sound to original. Then I remember who the author is: Jeffrey Eugenides, who wrote Middlesex, which I loved! Suddenly the book is a must read and I know that however simple the plot sounds on the surface, they’ll be a whole different level of depth reached by the end. I’m so glad I Brenna at Literary Musings sent her copy my way!!!
So here’s the things about the summary, it doesn’t capture anything about why the book is good. It misses all of the nuances when you smack a “troubled twenty-somethings” label on it or reduce it to another love triangle book. Sure, there’s a love triangle, but the reason it is interesting is because it’s not really about the love or the triangle, it’s about the people caught up in it and what they’re thinking about life in general, not just love. You’re doing the book a huge disservice if you try to put a simple label on something so complicated. Imagine calling Middlesex a coming-of-age story and thinking that covered it!
The book rotates between all three characters’ lives. I particularly loved Mitchell's parts, where he's traveling and trying to figure out what he believes. I’ve found that when I travel on my own I learn a lot about myself. You have so much more time for internal dialogue and you’re put in situations outside of your comfort zone that test you in different ways. His experiences rang true for me. I also loved reading about Madeleine’s literary pursuits. Eugenides manages to weave dozens of references to classic books and to make those century old plots relevant in the story.
I didn’t love this one as much as Middlesex, but I loved so many aspects of it. I also love reading a book that gives me something to chew on. There were a few parts that became repetitive or lagged a bit, but the amount of literary eye candy I got was enough to balance it out for me. After just reading Middlemarch and The Portrait of a Lady this year, I loved reading a book that paralleled those in some ways.
The book doesn’t have the same epic scale or sense of humor as Middlesex, but it also doesn’t have the same disconnected aloof style of The Virgin Suicides. It feels like a book written by an author who may have found his groove. He can capture characters beautifully and lay them out in a way that is both interesting and accessible. In The Marriage Plot he has created a world that is easy to connect to, but also gives you so much to ponder. His story is about trying to figure out who you are, both in relation to other people and to the world at large. It’s about the unexpected paths your life can take and the people who you didn’t know would one day be important. I know that I’ll be reading whatever he writes next, even if it takes another decade.
"She thought a writer should work harder writing a book than she did reading it."
“There were some books that reached through the noise of life to grab you by the collar and speak only of the truest things.”
p.s. On a side note, I wish the book had a different title or cover because I read this on vacation and it looked like I was reading a marriage self help book. I was reading it while we were waiting to be seated at a restaurant and a waiter came up and asked what I was reading. I told him and he said the title made it sound like a Disney movie about kids trying to keep their parents together.