The Marriage Plot

Thursday, November 3, 2011

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.

For some other great thoughts on this one, check out A Thousand Books With Quotes, Literary Musings, Things Mean A Lot, Nomadreader, and Farm Lane Book Blog


Ana S. said...

Aw, how nice of Brenna! I'm really glad to hear you enjoyed this too. The thing about the Disney movie really made me laugh.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I just finished this one Melissa and thought it was pretty good. I still liked Middlesex better though. Glad u had a chance to read this.

Care said...

I'm with you. I want to read it because of the author. :)

BookQuoter said...

Wow, thanks for the mention, what a nice surprise.
I feel exactly like you do about this book!! (scary that we both also just read Middlemarch before this one) Hope we don't have to wait another ten years for his next one.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Nymeth - He really did manage to get quite a few funny things into a pretty serious novel, I love that!

Diane - I wasn't sure how I felt about this one at first, but I think it has continued to grow on me. Whereas I loved Middlesex immediately.

Care - I have so many books on my TBR list just because of who the author is. It's getting out of control.

BookQuoter - Me too, though I'd rather wait a decade than have to slog through 5 bad books for every good one.

B said...

Melissa, I am so happy you enjoyed this one! I think you nailed it when you said "He can capture characters beautifully and lay them out in a way that is both interesting and accessible."

That is too funny about the waiter. I hadn't thought of the title that way but after reading what he said about the Disney movie, he is totally right. Sometimes I think because we are so immersed in the book world, both as avid readers and book bloggers, we don't really question a title after hearing it so much.

Jenners said...

THANK YOU for this!! I have been avoiding this because the plot descripition just sounds awful to me. It sounds like it will be horribly boring. But I guess I should trust Eugenides. And now I will read it because of YOU!!! I loved Middlesex but the Virgin Suicides left me cold. I'm glad to hear this sounds like him getting his groove!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brenna - I completely agree about the book title thing. Sometimes I hear about one so much from other bloggers that I don't think twice about the title or cover.

Jenners - It's not a quick read by any means, but the characters make it worth it. I felt the same about Virgins, I just couldn't get into it.

Bybee said...

I'm looking forward to reading The Parent Trap...I mean The Marriage Plot. Funny waiter!

nomadreader said...

I really liked this one too. I hadn't read many of the books mentioned in it, but I didn't feel as though I missed out. (As an aside, I read an interview with the author where he said the five novels he thought of while writing were Portrait of a Lady, Anna Karenina, Middlemarch, Madam Bovary and Aspern Papers.) After everyone saying they liked Middlesex more than this one, I'm glad I still have that one to read:-)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

nomadreader - That's awesome. I've read all 5 of those and I can definitely see elements of them in the book. I think that's one thing I really liked about it, it has a similar feel to some of those classic novels. Soemthing about the in-depth character study of an unhappy young woman trying to figure out her life.