I just finished “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides. I read “Middlesex” over the summer and plan to read “The Virgin Suicides” once I get through Tom Wolfe’s “I Am Charlotte Simmons.”
The story of the marriage plot involves the subversion of the classic English novel–otherwise known as the marriage plot. Hundreds of years ago, the biggest thing a young woman could do with her life was marry a man of high station, and “until death do you part” was taken a bit more seriously.
Eugenides cleverly examines whether or not–in the age of divorce and prenups–the marriage plot can have the same impact. In short, Eugenides answers: kind of.
Many accused “The Marriage Plot” of being less ambitious than it’s predecessors, and there is certainly a more INTIMATE tone than the sprawling “Middlesex” or the haunting, third person plural of “Suicides.” However “The Marriage Plot” represents a step forward for Eugenides: despite the last fifty pages or so, and roughly two dozen different countries serving as setting, the book is Eugenides’ most succinct and intimate to date, with a carefully conceived structure that hurls its audience forward, constantly hungry for the next slow, rewarding development.
“The Marriage Plot” is also carefully layered. Close readers will appreciate the many inversions of the marriage plot, most popularly utilized by Jane Austen. Madeleine’s love of Victorian era literature, her appreciation for the marriage plot itself, is the most obvious of the references, but there are many, and countless allusions to books in general.
“The Marriage Plot” is very much a book about books, and in this regard a great success. Madeleine’s (and Eugenides’) love of reading is passionately apparent, which in a way reinforces the reader’s enjoyment of the act itself. A particularly enjoyable sequence has Madeleine describing her childhood bedroom, where the walls are replicas of pages from the “Madeline” books. Madeleine feels herself to be living literally in the pages of the book, while the readers feels to be truly inside Madeleine’s thoughts, inside “The Marriage Plot.”
There are further unique elements to “The Marriage Plot.” Eugenides’ writes several scenes taking place in college lecture class rooms, recreating the uncomfortable, unstructured, rarely enlightening experience with thrilling detail.
Despite its successes, highlighted by a near perfect opening 100 pages, “The Marriage Plot” inevitably loses steam. As Mitchell introduces the histories of various inhabitants of a hospital in Calcutta, the reader is anxious for him to return to New York.
The marriage plot is typically capped off with a predictably happy ending. How did Eugenides’ handle his version of the happy ending? You’ll have to find out for yourself.
The Marriage Plot 8.25/10