Title: The Marriage Plot
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Review: A marriage plot is a particular kind of English novel , written by the likes of Jane Austen and George Eliot, where the central conflict of the book centers around whether or not the heroine will end up married. Those are the kinds of stories that fascinate Madeline, the central heroine of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, and are the topic of her senior thesis. However, during the early 1980s, those kinds of stories just aren’t en vogue anymore, instead being replaced by deconstruction and the growing field of semiotics.
While Madeline is learning to deconstruct the very idea of love in her classes, she’s also finding herself in the middle of a love triangle of her own. In one corner is Leonard, a philosophy and biology major with his own secret battles. In the other is Mitchell, a long-time friend who believes he is destined to marry Madeline but is also on his way to study abroad and explore his own questions about love and God.
Given that summary, it’s not surprising that The Marriage Plot is both a traditional marriage plot story and a deconstruction of the entire idea, trying to answer some big questions: “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?”
I was completely drawn into the beginning of this book. I think Eugenides did a really remarkable job capturing this crazy time right around college graduation where the world seems both limitless and totally terrifying and that combination of feelings makes you do some crazy things.
The middle meandered a bit for me. It was interesting, but also maybe a bit too long. I did appreciate that Eugenides didn’t shy away from making his characters both selfish and foolish when it was warranted because that’s how people can be. I can’t speak to how well he captured Mitchell’s religious journey or Leonard’s battle with his illness, but I do think he got Madeline exactly right.
But then I loved the ending, when the stories started to come together and there was some fun metafiction about the idea of a marriage plot. Eugenides resisted having too many meta-moments in the book, but I kept waiting for them. When it happened at the end I almost cheered because I was just waiting and waiting for it to happen. So on the whole, a bit meandering but definitely a book to give a chance if the plot sounds intriguing to you.
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