Happy Valentine's Day! Here's another randomly chosen book review that is not so romantic: The Marriage Plot Jeffrey Eugenides. I actually listened to the audiobook for this because I got it for free. Even so I still wanted a refund.
The Marriage Plot
by Jeffrey Eugenides
mention that because this is Eugenides's first novel after winning the
Pulitzer for "Middlesex" and it suffers from the same problems, although
it mercifully isn't as long. Overall Eugenides's attempts to create
something profound and deep winds up being a dull slog, not anywhere
near as good as his two previous novels.
First off, I think his
entire concept that the "marriage plot" doesn't exist anymore is flawed.
There are plenty of books that still deal with marriage. Even I've
written one! Maybe there aren't as many waltzes and as much worrying
about manners, but marriage still remains a key part of many literary
novels. More than a few of those are updates of Jane Austen or other
Victorian stories too. Really Jane Austen has been updated every which
way by now from sequels to being told from different narrators to being
set in modern day to adding zombies and sea monsters. So there's
nothing groundbreaking about this story.
This story takes place
in the 1980s probably for the reason that it was easier for the author
to write about twentysomethings during the period when he was
twentysomething as opposed to trying to write about the 2010s.
Mentioning the recession of the early 80s is of course supposed to make
us think of the parallels to now.
It all starts at Brown
University in Rhode Island. Spoiled little rich girl Madeline is
pursuing a useless degree in English, focusing on Victorian literature.
You can afford to waste your life like that when Mommy and Daddy (which
she still calls them despite being 22) are paying all the bills.
Madeline is finally graduating. It takes Eugenides a good track of the
audiobook to finally inform us that the doorbell is ringing and her
parents are visiting to watch her graduate.
Weeks earlier she
broke up with Leonard, a quirky poor boy from Oregon. But on the way to
graduating, she finds out Leonard is in the hospital after a nervous
breakdown. She finds out that he's suffering from manic depression.
Madeline is the type suffering from Florence Nightingale syndrome and
soon becomes essentially Leonard's nurse.
At the same time, in a
largely pointless subplot, Madeline's sometimes friend Mitchell is doing
like so many kids his age and going backpacking through Europe with his
friend Larry. Along the way Mitchell obsesses about Madeline. Why?
Because the plot calls for it. I can't see much about her that's worth
obsessing about. He also becomes Born Again and says "the Jesus Prayer"
about 700 times, which is really annoying in an audiobook because I
wondered if the CD was skipping. He finally goes to help Mother Teresa
Eventually, thanks to unwisely cutting back on his
meds, Leonard convinces Madeline to marry him. Needless to say this
doesn't work out so well.
To put it mildly, this book was
drudgery. None of the characters are very likable. Madeline is a whiny
bore. Leonard is often a bully. Mitchell is a creep who should be
watching Madeline with high-powered binoculars. There's no reason I'd
ever want to read about any of these people. Nor do I care who marries
who or doesn't marry who. They could all fall off a cliff for all I
The writing is mostly fine, though there was one laughable
section where Mitchell stares at a French girl's butt and thinks that
it's alive and looking at him. That only made me think of Jim Carrey in
"Ace Ventura" talking out his butt, which I do all the time. I should
also mention for the more sensitive reader there are some pretty
explicit sex scenes and bad language, Hard-R rated kind of stuff if not
What I hate most of all though is that it uses that
structure where it starts in the present and then we have to go back
through what's happened before that. Often we have to hear what happens
from Madeline's point of view and then Leonard's or Mitchell's.
There's often gratuitous exposition, most of it not mattering at all.
There's so much discussion of philosophy, literature, and religion
classes that the reader should get course credit at Brown for reading
Really there are so many better books you could read. For
twentysomethings in the '80s read "Less Than Zero" or "The Mysteries of
Pittsburgh." For a novel about a woman torn between a man with a
debilitating condition and another guy, read "The Dive From Clausen's
Pier." Or you could read Jane Austen. Or for another book about
marriage, read "Where You Belong" by Yours Truly.
Tomorrow Box Office Blitz Continues!