Monday, 25 June 2012

The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides

I don't know about you guys but do you ever have a novel that you're completely into, devour quickly, and then look back and wonder what you actually thought about it? Like maybe your brain was in a different place while you were reading and now, on the other side, you're not quite sure what you think. These are my feelings on The Marriage Plot.

The book follows the lives of three Brown college graduates: Madeleine, Mitchell and Leonard. Madeleine is an English Major, in love with her troubled boyfriend Leonard and the ideal woman for her freshman year friend Mitchell. The book explores the lives of the three while they navigate a first year out of college.

Let me just say that the first bit, set on the day of graduation is spot on. Told mostly from Maddy's point of view, it is amazing how perfectly Eugenides captures being an English major. I mean, I know he was one (at Brown, no less) but reading something that is just so perfectly reflective of your own life experience is always a treat. Name dropping Derrida and Eco, making fun of people who think they know so much about author intent and mentioning the blasphemous but ultimately true motivation of all English majors (that we just want to read stories) really just hit home. I ate it up.

His characters, as well, are wonderfully fleshed out. Maddy, although our heroine, does have her weak spots. She is a bit too privileged and a bit too quick to pass judgement. Mitchell (my favorite character) is a religious studies major who isn't religious so much as just curious and undergoes a transformation in both spiritual and mental areas. Leonard, Maddy's biologist boyfriend, spends most of the novel being described more than observed but when his chapter comes, he becomes a larger than life character as well. All three main characters, as well as various side characters like Maddy's family, were as real as if they graduated in my class.

That's why the thing that really stood out to me did so. All of this supposedly happened in only one year. While I know that it's possible for all the things that occur in the novel to occur in that course, it just seemed highly unlikely. Having been out of college going on three years, myself, I can say that, although I may be more Mitchell than anyone else, I found it hard to believe that characters could grow, change and just live that much life right out of college. Maybe it was different in the eighties. Maybe I just never knew anyone as dramatic as those three. But I still found it a tad bit hard to swallow. Not while I was reading it, of course; while reading, you just nod and accept and move along. It's after you put the book down and you realize how quickly time passed that you really start to question. It's like when you realize that Romeo and Juliet took place in the course of about three days. Too much in too little time.

The other thing that bugged me (and this is just a little thing and just me, I'm sure) were the references that Leonard had to Portland. Now, I'm from Portland, as is Maddy's boyfriend, Leonard. However, in his chapter where he referred to his childhood and growing up in Portland, he made quite a few references that, while technically real places and people, were not the way someone from Portland would actually refer to them. No one calls the Blazers the Portland Trailblazers. No one includes 'at Waterfront Park' when they're talking about the Steel Bridge. Little things, I know, but something that brought me out of the book. Oh well. I can't blame Eugenides for not growing up in my hometown.

All in all, I quite enjoyed the book. I wish there was a bit more focus on Maddy's work and her growing interest in Victorian fiction. And I wish it spanned a bit more time. But the writing was exquisite and the characters relatable and real. Recommended, especially for all you old English majors.

1 comment:

  1. After reading this for a literature class, I can say this is a great book; well developed characters, funny moments, and an interesting twist on the marriage plot.