This is my review as seen on OhSoCleverReads:
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides Book Review
I want this to be a candid response. I finished this book on 12/13/12 and started this post’s draft immediately after:
I liked this book. I disliked this book. It’s a love-hate thing.
Because I don’t feel like Eugenides earned the right for his book to be properly analyzed, I’m not going to invest MORE TIME in summarizing it. I want to move on with my life…And my refusal to break it down should tell you something about this book.
Before I started reading, I looked up what this book was about. I found this NYT article that reviewed it, so I would know what I was getting into. And, I have to say, the article is pretty spot-on. After reading it, it sums up my feelings nicely.
But, let’s put my personal opinions about the story in here, shall we?
The first part is (pretty much) all about their graduation from Brown. I have no real graduation experience of my own (I refused to walk), so I found the scenes and character interactions about graduation foreign – not only because I find such rituals ridiculous, but because it was about a graduation from an elitist school.
The fact that they were students going to Brown made me automatically hate them. I judged them from the start. See, if you’re going to write a story about privileged kids you have to make them relatable to even the ‘lower’ classes. The three main characters were already at a disadvantage (to my good side). None of them deserved what they had. None of them.
But I know that’s the wrong way to approach people/characters, so I adjusted my opinion accordingly.
However, that still didn’t help things.
I didn’t care – didn’t give a damn – about these characters. When bad things happened to them, I. Did. Not. Care.
I had no attachment to them. Maybe that’s what Eugenides wanted. Maybe not. The fact I can’t tell what he wanted makes their existence as characters seem pointless. If I can’t formulate opinions about them based on how the author presents them, then I don’t even care. Even if they were supposed to be little a-holes that I could officially hate, then fine. At least let me be able to officially feel something about them.
The three main characters can be summed up as this:
Mitchell, the religious studies major, has a God complex (he wants to control Madeleine).
Leonard, the double major, is too smart for his own good (and his genius never amounts to anything).
Madeleine is… Even though most of the story is from her POV she’s virtually an empty character. Which may or may not have been the point.
The shifts in POV really pissed me off. I felt like J.E. shifted between them because one character’s POV (or even an omnipresent narrator for that matter) couldn’t have carried the story along. The story uses shifts (of POV, etc.) to make you forget there is no plot – to distract you.
I complained about the lack of plot to Hel early on in my reading. She said that it’s because it’s a coming of age story. Which is true. But I think Literary Fiction gets a bad rap because of books like this. I mean, take Perks of Being a Wallflower for example (right off the top of my head). That’s a coming of age story regarded as literary (in some circles. Okay, mine). And it has a plot (why is Charlie so f–ked up? SPOILERS: because his beloved aunt molested him). A good plot has twists. This book, The Marriage Plot, has no twists. It did not awe me. It did not entertain me.
Instead, it tried to cram theological, philosophical, and literary discussions down my throat. Granted, it attempted to cleverly disguise these preachings (that always read as some Socratic method poorly inserted into the story) as plot.
These ‘inserted’ didactic moments wouldn’t be so bad if Eugenides had earned the right to teach me. If he had dooped me with a plot twist or with blowing my mind then yes. Yes, I’d be willing to be instructed. His awing me would have meant I’m the stupid one – that I still had something to learn. But that didn’t happen.
…If I’m going to take the time to listen to you, Eugenides, you need to make sure you’re worth hearing. Did you think that you could ride on your own coattails because of the Virgin Suicides? Middlesex? Well guess what, I’ve not even seen so much as your film adaptation, so it’s not working for you.
TMP is not an important book, though it is a good book. To a point, I needed this book. I recently graduated with my BA and this book brought back a lot of old experiences. It also helped validate the ones I’m going through now. But, the thing is, there are probably better books out there to help you/me during this time in your/my life. There has to be. Granted, I can’t think of any. But this shouldn’t have been THAT book.
Now, I could delve into the irony of ‘the marriage plot’ within The Marriage Plot, but I won’t. I can’t. It’s self-explanatory. It explains itself over and over and over when in reality you can just read this paragraph and get the picture. The irony-slash-brilliance speaks for itself. J.E. thinks he’s clever. Maybe he is. But not clever enough this time.
…What else is there to say? Hm.
Madeleine is an English major. She likes Victorian Lit but then starts to doubt its modern “goodness” when she experiments with other literature/philosophies. Which is fine. It’s good to doubt what you like. It forces you to make sure you like what you like for the right reasons. And of course Madeleine later realizes how she can still like Victorian lit – it wasn’t so ‘silly’ and ‘overdone’ after all – maybe she shouldn’t have let herself be spoon-fed at Brown (duh).
Madeleine’s character is reduced to a concept – “Victorianism” or whatever. Her entirety relies on what she’s studying at the time. She’s a blank slate compared to the boy characters.
The boy characters suffer from being manifestations of what they’re “studying” too, but I couldn’t help but get the impression that Eugenides made them said “manifestations” without being aware of it. I make this assumption only because… If he had realized it, he would have made the book much shorter – maybe a novella. His moral-of-the-story would have been much sharper and poignant if he had cut to the chase. He drags it out as if the book is going somewhere but he completely misses his own point. He tries to hit the target, but he never really shot an arrow.
J.E. ties his story up with a bow. He put a lot of thought into the present as well. But it’s one of those presents you feel obligated/pressured to accept and pretend to like.
…All complaints aside, this book was certainly the most thought-provoking and intellectual of what we’ve read so far. lol
Read the full review (+Hel’s review) at OhSoCleverReads.