Posts Tagged ‘The Marriage Plot’

Jeffrey Eugenides had me at the first sentence of The Marriage Plot: “To start with, look at all the books.”

Ah, what a come-on, and the long paragraph that follows is equally seductive as it describes Madeleine Hanna’s books on the day of her 1982 graduation from Brown University, from the expected texts of an English major — “a lot of Dickens, a smidgen of Trollope, along with good helpings of Austen, George Eliot, and the redoubtable Bronte sisters” — to the New Directions paperbacks, the Colette novels, and the first edition of Couples. A seemingly random collection that nevertheless is a kind of personality test “with an outcome that cut both ways and made you feel different depending on the day, the hour, or the guy you happened to be dating: ‘Incurably Romantic.’ ”

Yes, I said, yes yes yes.

But that was in  the beginning. I initially fell hard for Eugenides’ surprisingly conventional third novel concerning the romantic and spiritual yearnings of a triangle of Brown students — the aforementioned Madeleine, and her two suitors, longtime friend and possible soul-mate Mitchell Grammaticus, and charismatic manic-depressive Leonard Bankhead. Seniors in love. Where will their passions take them?

Madeleine, who met brilliant Leonard in a semiotics seminar, can’t abandon him, even and especially because of his mental illness. Which leaves mystical Mitchell to travel to Calcutta and work with Mother Theresa for a few weeks.  He seems destined for divinity school upon his return, but there’s something about Madeleine he can’t, won’t forget.

As much as I loved the first third of The Marriage Plot and its deft portrait of academia, I soon began to lose patience with the characters and their youthful yearnings. Eugenides writing still sparkled, and I enjoyed his company, but the bloom was off the rose. I started out in love with the book and ended up in like. I expect we’ll stay friends.

Open Book: I bought a digital copy of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) the day it was published (Oct. 11) and read it straight through. I would have written about it sooner but real life interrupted.

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