It’s supposed to be, like, unbelievably nice outside this weekend. Blue skies with temps hovering around 80 degrees F. I want to go on bike rides and read in the sunshine.
I read this book earlier in the year, but never wrote about it because I feel majorly unqualified to review this book since Jeffrey Eugenides is a Pulitzer Prize winning writing GENIUS, but I’m going to get all crazy and do it anyway.
Title: The Marriage Plot
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Published: October 2011
Pages: 416 pages
Genre: Fiction (Not Young Adult either….woah.)
It’s 1982 and college graduation weekend at Brown University. We’re quickly thrust into the lives of Madeleine Hanna (beautiful, sweet, English major who enjoys tennis and Victorian novels), Leonard Bankhead (tortured philosophy major who is also a scientist), and Mitchell Grammaticus (intelligent Religion major who is soon to travel the world in search of truths). Mitchel likes Madeleine and Madeleine likes Leonard and Leonard is….lost. We’re sort of voyeuristically following all of them the year after graduation, as their lives intertwine and unfold.
I loved every single setting in this book. Even Leonard’s dingy apartment. And I MUST visit Brown now. My friend Ashley, who recommended this book to me, went to Brown. I kept thinking that it had to have made the book extra exciting and special to read. What else? Cape Cod. Paris. Europe. India. New York City. Etc. Etc. I now want drop everything and go traveling the world in search of truths.
Separately, I enjoyed all of the characters, but when they intertwined with another; then no, I didn’t like them. And it’s because I didn’t feel the emotional connection they supposedly had for one another. At times, I thought, “Sheesh, Jeffrey, this could have been a bit better!” But, but, but, then it got me thinking to most (ALL) of the relationships that I had in my twenties. I was selfish. They were selfish. We were trying to figure out who we were and survive this time. And while our paths crossed, ultimately, we never worked well together. JUST LIKE THE CHARACTERS. After this revelation I thought Jeffrey was BRILLIANT. And that the entire premise of his book, the marriage plot that dominates Victorian novels taken into a modern-day context, was clutch.
The writing – the descriptions and even the sentence structure – blew me away. It’s so f*cking good. From the very beginning, I just started writing down sentences that I liked.
“Semotics was limited to ten students. Of the ten, eight had taken Introduction to Semiotic Theory. This was visually apparent at the first class meeting. Lounging around the seminar table, when Madeleine came into the room from the wintry weather outside, were eight people in black t-shirts and ripped jeans. A few had razored off the necks or sleeves of their t-shirt. There was something creepy about one guy’s face – it was like a baby’s face that had grown whiskers – and it took Madeleine a full minute to realize that he’d shaved off his eyebrows. Everyone in the room was so spectral-looking that Madeleine’s natural healthiness seemed suspect, like a vote for Regan. She was relieved, therefore, when a big guy in a down jacket and snowmobile boots showed up and took the empty seat next to her. He had a cup of take-out coffee.” pg. 25 (I LOVE THIS. The snowmobile boots guy is Leonard!)
In bed on a Friday night, wearing sweatpants, her hair tied back, her glasses smudged, and eating peanut butter from the jar, Madeleine was in a state of extreme solitude. pg. 49 (And this is still my normal nightly routine.)
It had to do with Leonard. With how she felt about him and how she couldn’t tell anyone. With how much she liked him and how little she knew him. With how desperately she wanted to see him and how hard it was to do so.” pg. 49 (Um, this too is still my routine….)
I could go on….I have pages and pages…..but I won’t.
Eugenides weaved a coming of age tale into something incredibly highbrow. I was a hot mess the first (few) years after college. It was full of highs and lows, uncovering self truths while I made a million mistakes, much like these characters are experiencing. Except Eugenides writes in a way that makes them all seem so brilliant that you, the reader, feel like the actual hot mess.
I would say that there was a lot that flew over my head in this novel. Maybe I learned it in college? (Hopefully….) But it was interesting to read and connect with this time in my life, yet also not connect or want to go back and reconnect. He dedicated it to his college roommates, which makes sense.
I liked that each character had their own narrative in the novel, which felt very different than any Victorian novel I’ve read. At times Leonard’s was sad to read. (I also learned a lot about drugs for bipolar disorder.) Or it was tough to read about an affection that was never meant to be. Nothing seemed swoonworthy about the story-line, like something I might get from my young adult books. At times, I missed having that element in a book.
But a novel doesn’t necessarily fall apart without it.
The best of any book. Talking Heads references, college – senior year, love triangles, Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse, traveling, Paris, real talk on UTI’s, scientists, The Cape, Jane Austen, Betsy Johnson dresses, tennis, and Portland boys.
Do yourself a favor. Read it this weekend. It’s one of those books that I keep thinking about, replaying in my mind, like a movie that touches you. I liked it, then I didn’t like it, and now I’m back to liking it. I’m still thinking about it and I think that’s the hallmark of something incredibly well done.
IV. Future Implications:
I need to read more books by Jeffrey Eugenides.
V. Additional Resources
Still on my nightstand: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (almost done!) and An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer