Sunday, November 23, 2014

{2014 TBR Pile Challenge Review} THE MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Eugenides

ISBN #: 978-0374203059
Page Count: 416
Copyright: October 11, 2011
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Limited Edition

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

It’s the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the caf├ęs 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.

Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology Laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.

Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.

Kathy's Review:
(Copied, with her permission, from her personal blog, Grown Up Book Reports)

I loved Eugenides’ work on Middlesex, and so I selected The Marriage Plot, a Pulitzer winner, for my 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge. This book is about smart people. Smart young people. Smart young people in love.

We begin with Madeline, a graduating senior at Brown University, majoring in English with a heavy focus on the Victorian writers, masters of the “marriage plot” novels, in which the story’s central focus is the marriage of its female protagonist. See: Jane Austen, et. al.

Rounding out this trio of young smart people in love is Leonard, Madeline’s boyfriend, who battles manic depression – kicked off after Madeline breaks up with him. And Mitchell, a student of religion, pines after Madeline, believing they should be together.

Crammed full of literary references only a diploma-holding Master of English Lit will understand or appreciate, this book falls short for me — at least in comparison to Middlesex. I found it fairly boring. I had little compassion for Madeline, in whom I felt greatly disappointed. As a character, Madeline lacks anything of substance that I could support as a female. I could empathize with Leonard’s depression and his inability to “snap out of it.” Madeline doesn’t seem to know how to deal with him, and treats it like something he can just decide not to be anymore. Mitchell seems to be some sort of hero in this story, and certainly his travails in Europe, India in particular, make him the most likeable of the three. That, and the fact that he doesn’t take advantage of Madeline when he has the opportunity to do so early on.

Eugenides writes about smart people and smart things but his writing itself is still accessible for the Average Joe. We may not get all the references, and there’s probably metaphorical stuff happening before our eyes that is basically invisible because we’re not smart enough to see it, we can still get through the story and have some basic understanding of the main plot, character development, and resolution. Why it went down the way it went down. If you’re part of the elite club that gets references to Barthes, and doesn’t mind boring characters having boring relationships, then have at it. I’ll stick to Middlesex.

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