Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Published: October 11, 2011
Hardcover: 406 pages
Source: borrowed from the library
My Rating: 4 stars
Synopsis (from GoodReads): It's the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés 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.
My Thoughts: I haven't read any of Jeffrey Eugenides' other works, but when I read the description for this book a few months ago, I knew that I needed to start reading his books. And let me say, The Marriage Plot did not disappoint. As I was reading the book, I realized what so many other people have discovered about this amazing author (who happens to have a Pulitzer): his work is accessible but still literary, delving into themes that are relateable across the generations. In this novel, Eugenides explores human relationships, specifically those intimate relationships that might lead to marriage. The protagonist, Madeleine Hanna, is someone who adores the work of Jane Austen and wonders why it isn't as simple as it was back then: girl sees boy, some witty banter between them, then a marriage proposal. Can this be found in today's world, or have we progressed that point?
Eugenides' explores this topic without hitting you over the head with the plot. He does leave you wondering what all has changed from Austen's time to today. Why have we complicated relationships, feelings, and emotions? Why can't it be as simple as it was back then? I also liked how Eugenides explored the topic of dependency. We see it when Leonard depends on Madeleine and tries to learn if she can save someone else. Also, Mitchell's dependency on religion was something that I didn't appreciate until the end. While Mitchell longs for a relationship with Madeleine, he depends upon religion, researching and exploring a variety of faiths through his college courses and his travels abroad.
There are a variety of themes that Eugenides touches upon in this novel, but I won't talk about it too much. Yes, it's a literary work, but don't let that scare you away. The characters are real and multi-faceted. The plot is interesting and engaging. If you thought you might want to read the book but haven't yet, I encourage you to go and pick it up. Believe me, it won't disappoint.