11.03.2011

The Marriage Plot


This week I read The Marriage Plot - after reading glowing reviews and finding it sold out at my local Barnes & Noble (apparently due to a glowing review on NPR which caused a run on it...)

Here's what Amazon has to say about it:
It’s the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever.  In the caf├ęs on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.
As Madeleine tries to understand why “it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth-century France,” real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes.
Leonard Bankhead—charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy—suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old “friend” Mitchell Grammaticus—who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange—resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.
Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology Laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.
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? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own.
I have to say that I liked this book - although I was ultimately a little unsatisfied with it.  When I first picked it up, I'm sorry to say that I thought "YAY!  Only 368 pages!"  Because I've been reading some pretty heavy (and LONG) shit this year. 

And then, at the end, I wanted 100 pages more.  I didn't dislike the ending at all, I just thought it felt a bit hurried.

But I loved Mitchell and I liked Madeleine and Leonard ..... well, Leonard is still a bit of an unknown.  He is the third leg in a triangle but he's the shortest one.  His character is the least developed of the three and I wish I had known more about him and I think if we could have really gotten into Leonard, we'd have had another 100 pages and a more satisfying book.

If you pick this up, I think you'll like it.  It was charming and adorable and nostalgic and a little heart breaking.  An excellent romance.  I read it compulsively and with great interest. 

I also loved, loved, loved Madeleine's parents, Alton and Phyllida.... I mean, how could you NOT love Phyllida?  She made me laugh out loud almost every time she appeared.

Mr. Eugenides, can we get a sequel???

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