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The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
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The Marriage Plot (2011)

by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Ugh... why? Jeffrey Eugenides' first book was about five suicidal sisters. His second was a Bildungsroman about an intersex person. His third is about... college grads trying to decide what to do with their lives. Gah, if I wanted a book like that, I'd write my memoirs. (And be completely unsurprised when no one read them.)

First we meet Madeleine, an English major at Brown University. She is a bit of an oddity because a) she likes to read and b) she likes "unfashionable" authors like Austen, James, Eliot, and Wharton. She is very attractive, as evidenced by the men around her finding her attractive. Eugenides spends pages and pages trying to convince you how special Madeleine is. (One sign is that she uses looseleaf tea instead of teabags.) The resulting portrait is of a pretty, sweet, naive, and dull young woman.

Despite being graced with more personality, the two male leads are not much better. Leonard is a budding scientist struggling with bipolar disorder. While his disease certainly makes him more sympathetic, it is no excuse for the way he treats Madeleine. (Madeleine pretty much puts up with his emotional abuse because the sex is so great.) Mitchell, a religious studies major, is a typical Nice Guy - the guy who becomes friends with you because he wants to fuck you. Unlike most love triangles, there is no reason to "ship" one pairing over the other.

The worst offense The Marriage Plot commits is that it has absolutely nothing new to say. I really hope that Eugenides didn't think he was being transgressive with the ending, where Madeleine rejects both suitors and goes to graduate school. The only way that ending would have been revolutionary is if it had happened in The Twilight Saga. ( )
  doryfish | Aug 15, 2016 |
I first read The Marriage Plot in October 2011, and I gave it 3 stars. I didn't bother to type out a review; had I done so, it would have just said "meh." I was underwhelmed.

This month (October 2015), I re-read the book and had a completely different reaction to it. (This is reflected in the new 4-star review, but imagine that it is a 4.5-star review. If only I could award half-stars!) I liked it so much this time around. It's almost as though I was reading a completely different book.

My theory for the difference is that I started the book with too-high expectations. [b:The Virgin Suicides|10956|The Virgin Suicides|Jeffrey Eugenides|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1319032910s/10956.jpg|812415] is one my absolute favorites and [b:Middlesex|2187|Middlesex|Jeffrey Eugenides|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1437029776s/2187.jpg|1352495] is one of my absolute LEAST favorites, so I was coming into it with some strong opinions about Jeffrey Eugenides's work. I expected to feel strongly, one way or the other, about the book, and it didn't exactly blow me away. It's more subtle than his other works.

I also made the mistake on my first read of thinking that Madeleine's and Leonard's relationship was the central story, and so I paid about as much attention to Mitchell's spiritual quest as I did to the sections about agrarian reform in [b:Anna Karenina|15823480|Anna Karenina|Leo Tolstoy|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1352422904s/15823480.jpg|2507928]. Huge error. Mitchell's story and character arc are not only important to the narrative, but (in my revised opinion) arguably the most interesting part of the book.

All of which is to say this: I'm really glad that I picked it up again because I liked it so much better this time around. ( )
  kathleenbarber | Aug 8, 2016 |
This was a really enjoyable read. I liked the premise, I found the characters engaging, I was interested in their experiences, and I enjoyed Eugenides' intelligence as a writer. Set in the days leading up to college graduation and the months afterwards, it follows three college friends as they work out who they are. Madeleine is the centre of the story, Leonard and Mitchell the two men she loves and is loved by. It takes in New Jersey, the Eastern Seaboard, New York, Paris, Greece, India and Monaco. It made me look back on the end of university as I experienced it, how enormous life seemed to be, and how things didn't turn out the way I thought they would. ( )
  missizicks | Jul 19, 2016 |
I enjoyed Middlesex much more than this novel. However, it was a good read and made one think about one's own relationships with others and one's own place in the world. I would have liked it to have tied in more directly with her thesis and reason for the title. ( )
  KimKimpton | Jul 14, 2016 |
Madeleine is supposed to be book crazy, but other than the classics that define her as a victorianist (a personality trait that was SAID to be central to her personality, as expressed by the wallpaper but that instead seems tacked on to the spoiled girl she really is and acts as most of the time, waiting to be asked and rescued.) she never seems to have a strong connection to any books (excepting the Barthes, yes, but that seems to be about her experience of love with Leonard than about the book itself.) So the book mad protagonist I was promised wasn't there, her thesis wasn't there, her proclaimed feminist wasn't there (guys have to ASK HER OUT, what.) She is an ideal more than a person, never completely fleshed out beyond her description and are there descriptions! Mad is always calm and soft spoken and logical (except when she marries a guy who is clearly acting crazy at 22, without jobs or prospects or anything resembling sense.)

Mitchel and Leonard, oth, get developed as characters. Mitchel gets his spiritual journey (during which HE actually does read books with which me makes a connection.) Leonard's illness was fairly interesting from his point of view, and got quite disturbing from Mad´s, who is half in denial, half in abasement, as if SHE is good enough, he will somehow get better and when he doesn't, of course she resents him for it.

Even though she takes a role of caretaker to her boyfriend, Mad is basically just reacting to his actions the whole time. The very ending, which I sort of like, is presented in a paternalistic manner that wants any grace or elegance, not to mention philosophical value. Once again, Mad makes a stupid mistake, a man comes to the rescue and makes the RIGHT choice for her. She readily agrees because they always know best! To be honest, I liked both Leonard and Mitchel till I remembered that they both fell in love with a girl that relates to them in this way and they felt it was a positive thing to have her be in a position of lesser power and dependence* (Leonard crossed a number of lines for me there.)

This was so embarrassingly pathetically male I actually had to leave the room:

Madeleine liked his new muscles. And that wasn’t all. One night, she pressed her lips to Leonard’s ear and said, as if it were news, “You are so big!” And it was true. Mr. Gumby was long gone. Leonard’s girth filled Madeleine up in a way that felt not only satisfying, but breathtaking. Every millimeter of movement, in or out, was perceptible along her inner sheath. She wanted him all the time. She’d never thought much about other boys’ penises, or noticed much about them, really. But Leonard’s was highly particular to her, almost a third presence in the bed. She found herself sometimes judiciously weighing it in her hand. Did it all come down to the physical, in the end? Is that what love was? Life was so unfair. Madeleine felt sorry for all the men who weren’t Leonard. WOW. So... I guess mania produces penis enlargement, somebody should let all those poor other men know!


* Mitchel, even though he means to 'liberate' her is very patriachal in that he makes that choice for her and not for himself (I don't want to date a girl not in love with me is a reasonable thing, expressing it as he's fulfilling her NEED instead of his, being magnanimous...) ( )
  askajnaiman | Jun 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 216 (next | show all)
The novel isn’t really concerned with matrimony or the stories we tell about it, and the title, the opening glance at Madeleine’s library and the intermittent talk of books come across as attempts to impose an exogenous meaning. The novel isn’t really about love either, except secondarily. It’s about what Eugenides’s books are always about, no matter how they differ: the drama of coming of age.
 
No one’s more adept at channeling teenage angst than Jeffrey Eugenides. Not even J. D. Salinger.
added by LiteraryFiction | editNew York Times, MICHIKO KAKUTANI (pay site) (Oct 6, 2011)
 

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Jeffrey Eugenidesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Асланян, АннаTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
People would never fall in love if they hadn't heard love talked about.
~Francois de La Rochefoucauld
And you may ask yourself, Well,
how did I get here? ...
And you may ask yourself,
This is not my beautiful house.
And you may ask yourself,
This is not my beautiful wife.
~Talking Heads
Dedication
For the roomies,
Stevie and Moo Moo
First words
To start with, look at all the books.
Quotations
Phyllida's hair was where her power resided. It was expensively set into a smooth dome, like a band shell for the presentation of that long-running act, her face.
Even now, at bed-and-breakfasts or seaside hotels, a shelf full of forlorn books always cried out to Madeline.
That left a large contingent of people majoring in English by default. Because they weren't left-brained enough for science, because history was too dry, philosophy too difficult, geology too petroleum-oriented, and math too mathematical - because they weren't musical, artistic, financially motivated, or really all that smart, these people were pursuing university degrees doing something no different from what they'd done in first grade: reading stories. English was what people who didn't know what to major in majored in.
She used a line from Trollope's Barchester Towers as an epigraph: "There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel."
Reading a novel after reading semiotic theory was like jogging empty-handed after jogging with hand weights.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
English major Madeleine Hanna must choose between two suitors while working on her senior thesis on the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374203059, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2011: Even among authors, Jeffrey Eugenides possesses a rare talent for being able to inhabit his characters. In The Marriage Plot, his third novel and first in ten years (following the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex), Eugenides describes a year or so in the lives of three college seniors at Brown in the early 80s. There is Madeleine, a self-described “incurable romantic” who is slightly embarrassed at being so normal. There is Leonard, a brilliant, temperamental student from the Pacific Northwest. And completing the triangle is Mitchell, a Religious Studies major from Eugenides’ own Detroit. What follows is a book delivered in sincere and genuine prose, tracing the end of the students’ college days and continuing into those first, tentative steps toward true adulthood. This is a thoughtful and at times disarming novel about life, love, and discovery, set during a time when so much of life seems filled with deep portent. --Chris Schluep

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:32 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Madeleine Hanna breaks out of her straight-and-narrow mold when she falls in love with charismatic loner Leonard Bankhead, while at the same time an old friend of hers resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is his destiny.

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