Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)

Back in 2008, the lovely Joolie lent me a copy of Jeffrey Eugenides' book Middlesex, and I liked it quite a bit. Five years later, a friend at work lent me her copy of Eugenides' most recent book, The Marriage Plot (2011). I've got quite the Eugenides racket going on...

The Marriage Plot is, much like the plot it references, a bit of a love triangle. Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell are seniors at Brown in 1982. Madeleine is in love with Leonard, the very smart and interesting scholarship student from Portland, who is also manic depressive. Mitchell is in love with Madeleine, the super smart and beautiful, upper-class English major from New Jersey. No one is really in love with Mitchell, the super smart religion major from Michigan who is exploring his spiritual side. The book alternates between all three characters' perspectives, spending the majority of the time with Madeleine and Mitchell, and takes us into their first year as "adults" after graduation.

While I liked Middlesex quite a bit, I'm more mixed on The Marriage Plot. This book is peppered with references to literature, literary theory, and academia. I can see how that would be a turnoff for some readers, but I found it pretty well done and consistent with the Ivy League intellectualism of the main characters. What was a bit of a turnoff for me was the narcissism, elitism, and general unlikability of all three of our heroes. They are all, of course, meticulously developed, well-written, and sympathetic, but spending an entire book with them takes a lot of energy.

Honestly, much of the narcissism and unlikability of these characters is because they are in their early twenties, and part of my like/dislike of the book has to do with all the uncomfortable early twenties feelings it brought up in me. I had a good time in college, particularly my senior year when I finally felt comfortable and smart and had some friends, but it was also an awkward time, fraught with self-consciousness and bad (or no) dates. That same kind of intellectual openness and romantic confusion is splayed out all over The Marriage Plot, and it rings very true. Having lived with and loved more than one person diagnose with manic-depression made the portrayal of the disease and those who live with it and who live with them equally filled with memory bombs.

So maybe the weird feelings about this book just have to do with me and my weird life, but I'd still recommend it to frustrated English majors and anyone who has finally bid their twenties goodbye.

Now all I need to do is find someone who can loan me The Virgin Suicides, and I can be a Eugenides completest!

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