11 July 2011

Book P(R)eview: The Marriage Plot by Jefffrey Eugenides

Though I have been a bookseller for more years than I'm willing to confess, I have somehow never read Jeffrey Eugenides, despite his Pulitzer Prize and the fact that The Virgin Suicides is the favorite novel of one of my favorite sales reps (shout-out to Michael Kindness!).  It's not that I was actively not reading Eugenides.  I just hadn't gotten around to it yet.  Enter his new book this October from Farrar, Strauss and Giroux called The Marriage Plot, which my bookstore is considering for its signed First Editions Club, and for which I am one of the readers.  

It's the story of Madeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard in the early 1980s, following them in their senior year at Brown and then into the "real world" as they fumble and stumble their way outside the gates of the rarefied and privileged atmosphere of the Ivy League campus they leave behind.  Madeleine is an English major smitten with the great English novels when she takes her first semiotics class.  Leonard is the brilliant but understated young man whose campus mystique serves to mask his bipolar disorder.  Mitchell is the religious studies major who is as given to ponder the mysteries of life as he is to ponder Madeleine as his destined life partner.  Mitchell defects to India after graduation while Leonard and Madeline move in together at a small research facility on Cape Cod, but they all meet up again later in New York.  

This book is so much better and so much bigger than this summary--it's a story of trying to grow up (but not necessarily succeeding), of academia, of inequality between the sexes, of class and gender stratification, of the absurdities of literary theory in the face of literary substance, of the rise of greed in that decade, and so much more.

 Well, I for one think it's very...good.  I cannot honestly say that I *love* the book because love implies an emotional connection and I have no such connection with any of the characteres (though the academic setting is dear to me), but I admire it.  I think Eugenides writes characters brilliantly, and I think he does a particularly good job writing mental illness--both the frustrations of living with it and the frustrations of loving somebody with it (believe me--as someone with a beloved sibling diagnosed with schizophrenia, it's a tough call who the disease is more difficult for).  The back and forth of the plot's chronology flows like memory, like you're caught up in the spell of a master story teller.  It's a ...pretty good... novel and you can be sure that I will be paying very careful attention to Mr. Eugenides and his work from now on. 

NB: My sales rep from MPS provided our store with an advance reading copy of this book.  The cover of the ARC, which is very curlicue-y and features a gold wedding band, seems a little inane for the book, so I fervently hope they change it.  Doing a Google search for finished cover images didn't get me very far, so I went with a publicity photo of the author instead.


  1. I have read Middlesex, which I liked very much, but probably didn't really love, either. It's one of those novels that was densely packed with interesting things to think about, but I sometimes felt a bit put off by the characters, epsecially when I read it a second time for book group. This sounds worth checking out.

  2. I am so jealous you got to read this early! I adore Middlesex by the same author

  3. I liked Middlesex and loved The Virgin Suicides. I didn't even know this new book existed. Thanks for the review!

    -Miss GOP


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