Tuesday, November 12, 2013
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
It's also curious that the protagonist, Madeleine, although I love that she is an English major and peppers her narrative with myriad literary references, is such a vapid and spoiled young woman. She keeps being referred to as 'whip-smart and beautiful' but I found her spineless and whiny and disliked her more and more as the story went on. Her parents, too, weren't particularly likable but were easier to forgive being of an older, perhaps more repressed generation. They loved their daughters but, the mother, Phyllida, "all hairspray and handbag" found it especially difficult to accept the realities of modern relationships, especially across class lines. Leonard, Madeleine's boyfriend, is one of the most complex characters I've come across in contemporary fiction in a long time. Suffering from bipolar disorder (at the time known as manic-depressive), he is both endearing, infuriating, and I'm guessing, a pretty accurate and humane representation of mental illness. No wonder it's such an elusive condition to treat. That leaves Mitchell, as odd and flawed as he is, as the winsome afterthought. When everyone else's cards are on the table, it looks like perhaps he's the one to root for.
So why did I like this book so much? I can only attribute it to the author's handling of such complicated and volatile social issues. I appreciate his trust in the reader's ability to apply a mature perspective to relationships that on the surface look straightforward, but in reality are considerably more problematic. I also found it interesting that it he chose 1982 as the year this all takes place. It's distant enough to feel dated (no cell phones or internet!) but recent enough to feel relevant. And finally, as a reader, he made me realize that my 'peeves' and prejudices are really quite unfounded.
5 out of 5 stars.
It's the early 1980s, the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English student and incurable romantic, is writing her thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, authors of the great marriage plots. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life - in the form of two very different men - intervenes. Leonard Bankhead, brilliant scientist and charismatic loner, attracts Madeleine with an intensity that she seems powerless to resist. Meanwhile, her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus, a theology student searching for some kind of truth in life, is certain of at least one thing - that he and Madeleine are destined to be together.\
Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this funny, wise, and heartbreaking novel enter the real world, events force them to re-evaluate everything they learned in school. With wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters and the drama of life, Jeffrey Eugenides creates a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives. (back cover)