Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Reviewed by Christina

Published: 2011

It's about: A love triangle: Mitchell loves Madeleine loves Leonard. The characters meet at Brown in the early 1980's; all three are in that intense period of self-discovery during and immediately after college.


Oh, blah. I'm having trouble summarizing this book, so I'm just going to refer you to the bookjacket teaser, which you can read here.

I thought: Well, of course I loved it. I was crazy about Middlesex, I adored The Virgin Suicides, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on The Marriage Plot. Take my review with a grain of salt if you want to- I really like Jeffrey Eugenides and that clouds my judgment a little. Plus, so much has already been said about this book that I'm feeling a little stumped as I sit down to write about it. There's the meta-fiction aspect, the Literary Theory as an organizing principle idea, the coming-of-age-ness of it all.

So yeah, I'll just mention a few of my favorite things about the book and you can go ahead and assume that I loved almost everything else.

One of the three main characters, Leonard, has bipolar disorder and his altering manic states and depressions are a big part of his character arc. Only one section of the book is told from his point of view, but I think it's the strongest, most interesting part. Mr. Eugenides writes Leonard so well; I think he excels with these exceptional characters who are set apart from society in some way: Lux in The Virgin Suicides, Cal in Middlesex, Leonard here.

Mitchell, the intelligent and philosophical underdog of the story, is my favorite character. I found his honest, open-minded interest in religion refreshing. My own life has always been so unrelentingly steeped in dogma that I envy Mitchell's desire to discover truth in religion for himself. I also loved the travelogue-ish feel to the sections that are written from his perspective as he's traveling through Europe and India.

I heard Mr. Eugenides say that in writing each of his novels he was training himself in a different aspect of fiction writing: he wrote The Virgin Suicides as he was discovering voice and point of view, Middlesex as he was figuring out plot structuring. The Marriage Plot is his study in character development. Nothing too earth-shattering happens in this book. The beauty is in the characters themselves and the way their identities and relationships evolve. I loved it.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf!

Reading Recommendations: If you want to read an opposing opinion about this book you can check out this article at The Hairpin: The Marriage Plot vs. Twilight vs. The World. I totally disagree, but it's still a funny and well-written piece.

Warnings: SEX. A little language.

Favorite excerpts:
She wasn’t all that interested, as a reader, in the reader. She was still partial to that increasingly eclipsed entity: the writer. Madeleine had a feeling that most semiotic theorists had been unpopular as children, often bullied or overlooked, and so had directed their lingering rage onto literature. They wanted to demote the author. They wanted a book, that hard-won, transcendent thing, to be a text, contingent, indeterminate, and open for suggestions. They wanted the reader to be the main thing. Because they were readers. Whereas Madeleine was perfectly happy with the idea of genius. She wanted a book to take her places she couldn’t get to herself. She thought a writer should work harder writing a book than she did reading it.

"He thought about the people he knew, with their excellent young bodies, their summerhouses, their cool clothes, their potent drugs, their liberalism, their orgasms, their haircuts. Everything they did was either pleasurable in itself or engineered to bring pleasure down the line. Even the people he knew who were “political” and who protested the war in El Salvador did so largely in order to bathe themselves in an attractively crusading light. And the artists were the worst, the painters and the writers, because they believed they were living for art when they were really feeding their narcissism."

What I'm reading next: The House on Crash Corner by Mindy Greenstein