Friday, December 16, 2011

The Marriage Plot

I've been putting off posting about this book for a while, even though I finished it over a week ago. That being said, it also took me a while to finish it, for several reasons. Mostly, I wanted to make sure that I did the reading justice, just as I wanted to make sure that I did the novel justice in my post here.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides could have been the story of my life.

At its opening, we find a girl, Madeleine, in her early twenties and graduating from Brown, completely unsure of where her life will take her. We also meet Mitchell, planning to travel the world before potentially going to divinity school. The book was...not my life. To say the least. I think that was where my first problem with the book took root--I was so expecting it to seem realistic to me all the way through, to match my own life and to mirror my own emotions, that I was disappointed when it didn't. When I opened the book to find that familiar Talking Heads quote, "and the days go by," I immediately felt a connection. While that was far from the only connection I felt with the novel and with the characters, it was certainly one of the strongest...while I had hoped it would be only the beginning.

I think maybe now, I will delve into a pro-con list of sorts to keep my [many] thoughts on the novel organized.

First the bad news:
• As already mentioned, I did not relate to Madeleine nearly as well as I felt I should have, being her age, having just graduated from an accredited university as an English major (and a "Victorianist" at that), and being nervous about what the future had in store for me. That was probably in large part because...
• Eugenides did not capture Madeleine's emotions--and she has, or at least should have, many--nearly as well as I would have hoped. With all that she is dealing with, and I won't give too much away here, I kept waiting for her to fall apart a little more. I realize she was supposed to be a prim and proper east coast young woman of the eighties, but I couldn't help but be annoyed by her unrealistic ability to always hold it all together.
• I was also frustrated with some of the plot points that I felt did not necessarily connect as they should have. For instance, where did all the Hanna family's money come from all of a sudden in the second half? We knew they weren't poor, but when did they win the lottery? Ditto for the little “gift” Madeleine’s sister gave her—it came back up in the end, but almost irrelevantly.
• Also, why did Mitchell suddenly land on a faith at the very end of the novel? I really thought this was going to be a novel about how life not working out the way you had hoped was totally fine--normal, even. Why was it necessary to have Mitchell "find himself" rather than just letting him keep searching, as Madeleine is forced to.

And now for the good news:
• The writing was mesmerizing, at times, to say the least. While I couldn’t always relate like I wanted to, I did find myself wrapped up in the adventures of the characters, and feeling the way about Leonard that (I think?) I was intended to.
• Leonard’s character and his condition were described quite well, for the most part, and my complaints were always about how Madeline related to them, mainly because that’s not how I (nor I think most other reader’s) would have wanted to respond. And I didn’t think love was a good enough cover all for that discrepancy.
• It was simply nice to read about someone with problems far bigger than any of mine. Shallow, I know, but isn’t that always the way? Sometimes, I wished I was Madeleine Hanna—for her beauty, her intelligence, for her sheer lack of money problems. But then, her issues took over, and I realized, as I almost always do, that I would so much rather be me. It’s nice when a book can take me here and there like that (so long as I get back. Admittedly, I’d still be okay with being Hermione Granger).

I won't keep rambling, because I could probably go on and on with this list and it would end up relatively even (or a smidgen longer on the con side), but that's not the point. Here it is: I won't be running for my next Jeffrey Eugenides right now, but I am glad I read this book, and I think others should, too (if only to discuss it with me!). I promise, I'm a harsh critic. Get wrapped up in the writing, people (thanks, NaNo. Another lesson learned).

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