Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides is probably my all-time favorite writer. I first read The Virgin Suicides in high school, and it remains among the most beloved books on my shelf. It came into my life at just the right moment and continues to resonate with me years later. I imagine The Marriage Plot will occupy a similar place for me in the future; it was just what I needed to read at this point in my life.

The Marriage Plot departs from Eugenides' other works in a few ways. First off, it isn't set in 1970's-ish Detroit and Greek heritage and culture do not figure prominently in the narrative. It also has less of an epic scope to it than The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex; it's subject matter is comparatively banal. Nevertheless, I found myself enjoying every page-- probably because of the extent to which I related to it.

When I posted about having finished and liked The Marriage Plot on facebook, the younger sister of a very close friend of mine asked if she would like it. "That depends," I responded, "How do you feel about dysfunctional, over-educated humanities majors who are having difficulties reintegrating into normal life?" As a member of that category, I have a love/hate relationship with the characters, especially Madeleine. On the one hand, I, too, majored in English because I liked to read and experienced a certain amount of personal fallout and professional angst as a direct result of that (in hindsight) incredibly poor decision. On the other, Eugenides managed to embody just about every thing I don't like about myself in her, so I often found myself incredibly frustrated-- just like the time I read Madame Bovary.

At the same time, though, the writing was really, really good and I found myself caring quite a bit about the characters and their questionable decisions. It was also remarkably true to life; even though it was set around students who graduated from Brown in the 1980s, it rang true to my (and my friends') experiences as students who graduated from Vanderbilt twenty years later. Some of us got menial jobs, others of us traveled the world and found enlightenment (...or lots of drugs, whatever), others went off to engage in scientific progress, most of us were underemployed, and virtually all of us made incredibly bad choices in our love lives (I had a particularly unfortunate knack for getting involved with crazy people). Much like Eugenides' characters in The Marriage Plot, we muddled our way through and emerged on the other side of our twenties more or less intact.

Strongly recommended. 5 out of 5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear this worked so well for you. I have an idea it wouldn't be such a great fit for me, but then I avoided the whole humanities major thing :)