Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jeffrey Eugenides is one of the "big" novels to come out this fall.  Eugenides' previous works include The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex.

The novel is a throwback (a classic love triangle, all about marriage, set in the 1980s) and yet quite modern in its approach.  The story is set in the 1980s.  Madeleine Hanna, an English lit major, graduates from Brown University.  Madeline, a daughter a small university president and part of an upscale family, completes her senior thesis on the "marriage plot" that was the centerpiece of many classic novels (e.g., Jane Austen).  With the descent and decay of the institution of marriage, the import of the novel declined as well.  Madeline becomes deeply involved with Leonard Bankhead, a complicated and brilliant manic depressive.  Meanwhile, Madeline also has a relationship with her admirer, Mitchell Grammaticus, who decides to forgo divinity graduate school for a spiritual search through Europe into India.  The three characters contend with the challenges of coming-of-age, marriage, spiritual searches, mental illness, feminism, parental involvement, divorce and even careers. Eugenides begins the story with the characters' college graduation, constantly back-filling the story as he slowly moves the plot forward.  The story does not move more than a couple of years post-college.

The writing is top notch.  In some ways, stylistically, Eugenides reminds me (positively) of Jonathan Franzen although The Marriage Plot is a more tightly-focused and far less expansive work than Freedom.  One of the treats about this novel for literature lovers is that Eugenides pours literary references liberally throughout the book.  It is quite humbling.

I enjoyed (but did not love) this novel.  Because the novel was so tightly focused, at points, the plot was weighed down by its details, nearly coming to a halt.  I also felt that the placement in the 1980s (cultural references and all) felt a bit forced.  Perhaps dropping the story into the pre-Internet, cellphone, Facebook/Twitter age simplified some of the social interactions; but, it felt unnatural. With all of that said, the novel was not one I found I had to fight to get through.  It was enjoyable, well written and well executed.


  1. Hi Morris,

    I read what you wrote about Julian Barnes latest novel. Made we want to go and buy it which I will do right now assuming I can find it for the Kindle. Anyway I am publisher of a literary magazine http://www.gringolandiasantiago.com/ and was wondering if you would like to contribute a book review. My email is werowe@walkerrowe.com.

    saludos de Chile.

    Walker Rowe

  2. I just loved this story. Brilliant insightful and entertaining . I was surprised by the turns the story took and completely entrapped by the world created for the characters.
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