The Marriage Plot Needs Another Plot

The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides
As I’ve written in earlier posts, I’ll once again admit to being superficial when it comes to book covers. A colleague left a copy of Jeffrey Eugenides The Marriage Plot on my desk. There are two glaring items for me to judge this book by: 1. the title, The Marriage Plot and 2. the cover’s illustration is an engagement ring. So, thanks, but no thanks. My colleague said that my boss had lent the book to her and she read it and really liked it (she admitted it was a simple plot but fun). She also said my boss really wanted me to read it. I put it aside to read at a later date. I thought perhaps I’d squirm out of reading it. But my boss eagerly asked me if I’d read it yet. No, not yet. I think you’d really like it. There are so many great literary references that you’d get and it’s really funny. How could I not appreciate such kind flattery? And so I picked it up and started reading.

The book begins on the day of Madeline‘s college graduation. Her parents are visiting and she’s a hot mess, wearing last night’s dress, makeup still smeared on her face, having just snuck into her apartment a few minutes before her parents arrive. She has recently broken up with her boyfriend, Leonard, that she was going to move in with after graduation. She has yet to tell her folks that she has  no boyfriend and consequently, no home. Madeline goes to breakfast with her family and runs into an old friend that she stopped talking to half a year ago, Mitchell, who is in love with her. And now we have the plot. Now we have the impetus for all future actions and narrative. Madeline is still in love with her exboyfriend and her exfriend is in love with her. What will happen??? Oh no, who will she choose???

The descriptions are funny and Madeline’s attempts to fit in with each clique she associates with are spot-on. But I have a hard time reading a book whose sole narrative is to figure out which boy a girl will choose. Really? That’s all she can do? There is quite a bit of humor, as in what literary genre is hip to appreciate. Madeline is outdated because she prefers the Victorian novel. She takes a semiotics class which she doesn’t like or care for. She doesn’t fit in so she starts wearing more black. Mitchell is more alternative than her so she buys a bowling shirt to wear to his parties (so she won’t stand out in her preppy designer clothes). Yes, the descriptions are great, I did enjoy the book but I definitely wanted more. I wanted Madeline to be more and I wanted the men in her life to be more. Ok, not everyone is destined for greatness, but besides the humor of this book, I found it lacking.

On top of that, this book won the Pulitzer. How is that possible? How did a basic romance novel win the Pulitzer? By the way, I’ll admit my prejudice against the Pulitzer. Why has Salman Rushdie never won one? (Of course, Rushdie has won the Booker Prize and the Booker of Bookers. I  read Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, which also won the Pulitzer. Although I didn’t love American Pastoral, I saw why it won the Pulitzer; that novel was complex and well written.)

So the title, The Marriage Plot refers to an academic paper that Madeline wrote about marriage in Victorian novels. I did like this book and I realize that I’m judging it quite harshly, mostly because it won a Pulitzer and I’m not sure why. It’s a fun read but to be honest, if I hadn’t finished reading it, I wouldn’t have wondered what happened to Madeline. The book isn’t a page turner based on narrative; you read it quickly because it’s so easy to read. It’s like candy for intellectuals. The best parts of the novel are the descriptions of Madeline’s classes. Yes, I’m glad I read it but I don’t think I’ll be reading anything else by Jeffrey Eugenides. I considered reading Middlesex but after reading The Marriage Plot have since changed my mind.

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2 Comments

  1. i’m reading this at the moment, actually (great minds!) and i agree with your review, I don’t understand the praise that this book received, because i did find it a little simpler than i expected – but maybe i missed something. i did like reading it though, but don’t let it put you off middlesex!!!

    Reply

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