Tag Archives: Jeffrey Eugenides

Review: The Marriage Plot

Recap: It’s 1982, and three young adults have just graduated from Brown University. They are now entering the “real world.” The Marriage Plot is told in sections split up between these three main characters. It starts on graduation day and then takes us backward through their college experiences, and forward into the year after graduation.

There’s Madeleine, the heroine and Victorian literature enthusiast. She’s beautiful, smart, and moves in with her boyfriend, Leonard, after college. Leonard is a brilliant, handsome guy, studying science under a fellowship at a lab on the Cape. Leonard’s brilliance becomes more and more shadowed, however, by his severe case of manic depression. There’s also Mitchell, Madeleine’s close friend, who has been in love with her for years. Constantly pining for Madeleine, Mitchell sets out on a post-grad journey across Europe and Asia, as he considers attending grad school for religion and tries to define his own religious beliefs.

Analysis: The novel’s title itself, The Marriage Plot, makes it seem like this is a book about love. But this is not a story about love. This is a coming-of-age story. Maybe it was my poor reading, but the whole time I kept wondering “Who will Madeleine end up with?” It wasn’t until the conclusion that I realized a) that’s not the point of the story and b) it’s obvious from the beginning that only one ending makes sense.

This “obvious” ending is clear because of the direct parallels author Jeffrey Eugenides makes between The Marriage Plot and great literary pieces of our time. Throughout the novel, Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell often reference authors like Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, and James Joyce, and their works. The references are heavy in the beginning of the novel, during the characters’ pretentious college years. As they continue to pop up throughout the book, it becomes clear that these classic stories influence Eugenides’ own storytelling.

I am by no means an expert in classic literature, but here are a few examples of what I mean. In Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, the characters do not end up with the ones they love; they often end up quite sad. Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a coming-of-age story about a man who tries to identify his religious beliefs. Knowing how these stories end, it’s possible to predict how The Marriage Plot will end. Eugenides therefore not only mentions these works in his novel, but borrows plotlines directly from them.

If you’re a literature enthusiast, you’ll understand the book well. If you’re not, it’s still worth a read for its realistic tales of college life and the difficult period afterward.

MVP: Mitchell. He’s the nerdy loner you root for throughout the book. Madeleine gets the most attention and pages in the book, but is somehow the least developed character. The story about Mitchell’s religious journey is virtually discarded at the end of the novel, but his overall arc is still the most interesting of all the characters.

Get The Marriage Plot in paperback now for $10.88.

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Male vs. Female Authors: The Double Standard

How likely is it that a man goes to a bookstore and purchases a pink book with a picture of a stiletto on it? Or a little girl on a farm? How likely is it that a woman goes to a bookstore and purchases a red book with bold, black typeface and some kind of faraway landscape? The fact of the matter is people really do judge books by their covers. And if that book seems remotely feminine and has a female author, a man will likely move on to the next shelf.

According to this important essay in The New York Times, “women’s fiction” consists of books that are written by women. But they’re not necessarily for women. And they certainly aren’t always “chick lit.” But many tend to lump women’s fiction and chick lit together — identifying these books as silly, quick reads about women and their romantic relationships with men as well as their friendships with other women. Essayist Meg Wolitzer uses Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot as an example of the exception to the rule — a book that has mainly feminine themes, but is written by a male. It’s been hugely successful, but women write books with similar content and themes all the time and don’t get nearly as much recognition. Is it simply because they’re women?

Furthermore, women’s fiction and chick lit are not the same. Women’s fiction can be as serious as any man’s book. And whereas a woman tends to be open to reading a book written by a man, men aren’t necessarily as inclined to read books written by women, as Meg Wolitzer explains.

Recently at a social gathering, when a guest found out I was a writer, he asked, “Would I have heard of you?” I dutifully told him my name — no recognition, fine, I’m not that famous — and then, at his request, I described my novels. “You know, contemporary, I guess,” I said. “Sometimes they’re about marriage. Families. Sex. Desire. Parents and children.” After a few uncomfortable moments he called his wife over, announcing that she, who “reads that kind of book,” was the one I ought to talk to. When I look back on that encounter, I see a lost opportunity. When someone asks, “Would I have heard of you?” many female novelists would be tempted to answer, “In a more just world.”

Wolitzer explains that women’s books are actually less reviewed, according to statistics gathered by a women’s literary organization called VIDA. She talks about the length of books, their covers, their jackets. But ultimately it all comes back to who has written the book. Wolitzer goes into incredible depth with this essay, and I urge you to read it in its entirety. While I often don’t think much about who wrote the book I’m reading, it’s something I’ll begin to consider now.

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