Regular Contributor Shannon Ross is back today with her take on the THE MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Euginedes. I’m pretty sure I’m the one who loaned her MIDDLESEX, so I’m taking credit for her wanting to read more of an author I introduced her to!
This fall I was excited to learn of Jeffrey Eugenides’ most recent novel, The Marriage Plot. It was only in 2010 that I first read Eugenides’ highly acclaimed Middlesex, which I thoroughly enjoyed, so I had high hopes for this next novel. Despite reading a review indicating that this contribution was not as impressive, the plot seemed of interest and I was enthusiastic to give it a try. Reflecting the public interest in the novel, there was a long waiting list at my local library, and several weeks later I picked up my copy.
As the novel opens, the story focuses on Madeleine Hanna who is a Brown University senior on her graduation weekend (class of ’82), without much of a post-graduation plan. In fact, many of the students do not have set plans, due to a high unemployment rate (suggestive of our current job market). Madeleine is dealing at the moment with her overeager yet well-meaning parents who are visiting for graduation, and more chronically with a recent breakup that has contributed to her lack of direction.
We are introduced to Mitchell Grammaticus as Madeleine runs into him during a breakfast outing with her parents. While Madeleine sees Mitchell as a friend, it becomes clear that he has more romantic interests. Shortly thereafter we learn of Madeleine’s other love interest, Leonard Bankhead, and the triangle emerges that is the focus of the novel. Madeleine is intensely attracted to Leonard’s charisma and energy, while a much quieter Mitchell secretly pines for Madeleine.
Fancying herself as a romantic, Madeleine is desperate to understand love as well as to find the “perfect” mate to fit her exacting criteria. As Madeleine demonstrates her naïveté regarding relationships, she writes her senior thesis on the marriage plot in 18th-19th century literature. Through her study of romantic literature and semiotics, Madeleine ponders love and attempts to reconcile her traditional notions of it, with the blurred boundaries of college relationships, and the twin societal movements toward increased gender equality and promiscuity.
Meanwhile, Leonard, a brilliant student with a post-graduation science fellowship, struggles with psychological issues that threaten both his personal and professional future. Mitchell, a religious studies major, plans a trip around the world to postpone the necessity of beginning his life, as well as to distance him from Madeleine’s lack of reciprocal interest. Over the course of their first post-graduate year, Eugenides illuminates these three characters’ journey into the “real world”; threading throughout the history of their relationships during Brown and after.
I enjoyed the pace of the novel, as well as the alternation among the perspectives of Madeleine and her two male interests. I was not entirely sympathetic for Madeleine, as her regular missteps and general immaturity are a little tiring (as perhaps are many college students). Of the three, I found myself rooting for Mitchell the most, although not necessarily in his endeavors for Madeleine’s affections. Although I somewhat agree with those who think this is not as high a caliber as Middlesex, I enjoyed the book immensely and would recommend picking it up for a fun New Year’s read. Enjoy!
– Shannon Ross, Regular Contributor