Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides

The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides
Published by: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Published: October 11, 2011

When I write about a book I usually strive to really capture how I feel about it or how the act of reading impacted me.  It's easy to get analytical about plot structure and references, to get lost in the architecture and construction of the novel.  While it's fun to dive into those things, what is most interesting to me is if the reading experience was enjoyable and how the experience stuck with me.

But there's still that part of me that wants to get all analytic and make charts and try to draw lines between different things and work out what it all really means.  And this is definitely a throwback to the me of ten years ago.  Like the characters in The Marriage Plot, I've spent my post-college years chasing my idealized sense of myself and the world and finally becoming comfortable with the realities of myself and my life

In a nutshell, The Marriage Plot is about three young adults that graduate from Brown and essentially have to deal with the collapse of their idealized sense of themselves and their future.  It's a coming-of-age novel that's neck-deep in literary references.

Yes, there's the love triangle between Mitchell,  Madeleine and Leonard.  Yes, Leonard resembles David Foster Wallace.  Yes, there's a lot of discussion on semiotics.  But all that is just the framework.  This is a book about walking out of the amazing experience of higher education and discovering that the world is a dirty awful place and that the places or experiences where you expected to find beauty and higher levels of consciousness are often a disappointment.  That the high sense you had of yourself or your intellect is worth very little outside of the university environment.

One of my favorite moments of the book pops up early.  Introducing themselves during Madeleine's Semiotics 211 seminar, "the boy without eyebrows" says,
"Um, let's see. I'm finding it hard to introduce myself, actually, because the whole idea of social introductions is so problematized.  Like, if I tell you that my name is Thurston Meems and that I grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, will you know who I am?  O.K. My name's Thurston and I from Stamford, Connecticut. I'm taking this course because I read Of Grammatology last summer and it blew my mind."
"the whole idea of social introductions is so problematized" - I love that.  So much pretentious garbage that you only hear from self-important idiots.

Mitchell and Madeline both go out into the world and discover that reality is more harsh and cruel than they expected.  They both get to try out the things they thought they wanted and find it all lacking.  Leonard... well, Leonard is really the victim of the unreality in his head.  What makes Leonard so charming is that he's easily the most grounded in his expectations of his future, even when he's at his most optimistic.  And his situation is even more tragic for that reason.

Eugenides has said in interviews that Middlesex was about story and that The Marriage Plot is about character development.  I'll agree with that when it comes to Mitchell, but I saw that less in Madeleine, who seems more reactionary than providing her own momentum. Leonard's character doesn't really change, but he's the gunpowder that, when ignited, blows everything out.

Truthfully, at the time I finished it, I liked The Marriage Plot, but I didn't love it.  But much like The Remainder, it stuck with me long afterward and even though I finished it nearly a month ago I keep turning it over my head.  It's caused me to think about my own emergence from college and who I was for those first few years and how my experiences made me who I am today.   Most of my favorite movies were those that I didn't really love on the first viewing, but stayed with me and forced me to think about my life.  The Marriage Plot did that for me and my appreciation of it has increased since I've gotten some distance from it.  It's a better book than I originally thought.

Rating: 8/10

Book Source: purchased

Other Reviews: Sophisticated Dorkiness | Apostrophe

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