Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Marriage Plot

If you have read Jeffery Eugenides then you know that the man’s writing is dazzling. He can put words together in ways that can be operatic both in their pathos and humor. It’s the same in his latest novel, The Marriage Plot plus a tremendous amount of references to novels. Best of both worlds, right? You get to wallow in magnificent writing and be rewarded for being well read.

Unfortunately for me the three main characters in The Marriage Plot left me cold. The novel is a love triangle stuffed with ideas and 80’s nostalgia. Nothing wrong with that! There is Mitchell, Leonard and the object of their affections, Madeleine. All three are students at Brown University. Madeleine is a newly graduated English major which in English translates into not equipped to leave the cloistered campus world and find a job. Leonard is the broody rebel who captures her heart but his brilliance and outsider appeal hide serious problems and best-pal-good-guy Mitchell is in love with Madeleine while she wants to be--sigh-- just friends.

Madeleine’s love of 19th century literature seems to have doomed her to live out their romantic entanglements. She’s Dorothea Brooke the entitled, earnest young woman who gets chained to the man that her own illusions forced her to choose while the man that could have made her happy is going to satisfy himself by living a life devoted to the good of others.

If I adored Middlemarch why can’t adore The Marriage Plot? Maybe it’s the distance. Middlemarch was written in 1869. Reading it 150 years later I can accept Dorothea’s vanity, her uncompromising belief in her ability to support the intellectual endeavors of her husband with irritation but complete belief.  Madeleine is a contemporary. That makes me judge her more harshly. I find her character to be less believably constructed than Leonard (The most successful of Eugenedes creations in the novel.)and the stalwart Mitchell. Her love of novels aside, Madeleine is a bright, articulate blank, an any-woman who over the years sees things more clearly but doesn’t grow up.

Woe is me. Loved the writing but couldn’t connect with the characters. That’s it in a nutshell.

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