As a huge fan of both of Jeffrey Eugenides’s other published novels (The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex), I’m a little surprised it took me as long as it did to get to reading The Marriage Plot. Eugenides has such a brilliant way with stringing words together and slipping in poignant statements when you aren’t expecting to stumble across them. I was a bit nervous to listen to his latest story in audiobook format because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to visualize how beautifully his words flow together in the same way that I was able to when electronically or physically reading his works.
While I didn’t love The Marriage Plot as much as his other works, it was my favorite work of fiction that I’ve read so far in 2015. That’s not to say that it’s the best fiction work I’ve read this year — that would be The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (review coming soon!), but it’s definitely the fiction read that I’ve most enjoyed.
A lot of other reviewers have been annoyed by this book because the main characters are all a bunch of pretentious college students, which they definitely are, but the novel highlights the pretentiousness without casting it in an admiring light. Frankly, most of the characters in the novel reminded me of people I stumbled across in my own college experience that were pretty pretentious in similar ways (the philosophy spouting Leonard, one of the three main characters, reminded me very specifically of one of my dearest friends, while also lampooning all of his faults that can irk me).
The main characters, Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell, are all college students together at Brown University in the 1980s and each of their story lines reek of their privilege and their desire to be someone greater than an ordinary individual. They all want to be central characters in stories instead of the minor characters that we all are to everyone else in real life. The following quote illustrates this perfectly — Madeleine became delighted with herself when she adorned her walls with illustrations from the children’s book series Madeline because it augmented
“the sense she had of herself, then and now, as being the one in a troop of girls a writer might write a book about”
which I feel like perfectly sums up Madeleine as a character. Of all the characters, Madeleine falls the flattest, but I feel like that’s intentionally done and is more of a purposeful statement than a fault of the writer.
The novel is entitled The Marriage Plot because that is essentially the plot of the novel, something that Eugenides felt was missing in current literature when compared to the great Victorian novels, such as Pride and Prejudice. That said, I feel like the title is a bit misleading and could be discouraging to readers who don’t want to read about “marriage.” Yes, a marriage occurs within the pages of the books, but it’s more a story of how these three characters have interweaving lives than about any specific plot line.
And finally, because I’ve stressed so much how Eugenides is incredibly gifted with his words, here’s a quote from The Marriage Plot that nearly made me shed a tear on the subway.
“If you grew up in a house where you weren’t loved, you didn’t know there was an alternative. If you grew up with emotionally stunted parents, who were unhappy in their marriage and prone to visit that unhappiness on their children, you didn’t know they were doing this. It was just your life. If you had an accident, at the age of four, when you were supposed to be a big boy, and were later served a plate of feces at the dinner table – if you were told to eat it because you liked it, didn’t you, you must like it or you wouldn’t have so many accidents – you didn’t know that this wasn’t happening in the other houses in your neighborhood. If your father left your family, and disappeared, never to return, and your mother seemed to resent you, as you grew older, for being the same sex as your father, you had no one to turn to. In all these cases, the damage was done before you knew you were damaged. The worst part was that, as the years passed, these memories became, in the way you kept them in a secret box in your head, taking them out every so often to turn them over and over, something like dear possessions. They were the key to your unhappiness. The were the evidence that life wasn’t fair. If you weren’t a lucky child, you didn’t know you weren’t lucky until you got older. And then it was all you ever thought about.”
Narrator: David Pittu Facebook