Saturday, August 27, 2011

239 (2011 #44). The Marriage Plot

 by Jeffrey Eugenides

A few weeks ago I viewed a free live webinar called "Book Club Buzzing" sponsored by Booklist, and the Macmillan representative on the panel offered to send advance reader's copies of Jeffrey Eugenides' new book to anyone who asked.  I read and enjoyed his Middlesex five years ago (I wasn't writing reviews back then, but I gave it five stars), so I asked for a copy.

I'm probably not the right person to review it.  Maybe an English major, or someone with a stronger literary background, would have "gotten" the numerous references to literary history and theory.  Maybe a fan of Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters would have better appreciated the underlying reference to the conventional storyline of a love triangle.

Madeleine Hanna is the single woman in the triangle, and - surprise! - she is an English major who loves Victorian novels!  The two men vying for her attention are Leonard Bankhead, the charismatic biology/philosophy double major she meets in her final-semester "semiotics" (another one I had to look up) class, and Mitchell Grammaticus, the religious studies major she met her first year.  The novel starts on the day of their graduation from Brown in 1982, but flashes back through their college years to give us the backstory. 

I found Madeleine to be boring, weak, and wishy-washy.  The two men were much more interesting.  Mitchell's pursuit of religious enlightenment is intriguing, but Leonard's battle with bipolar disorder is much more so.  I could feel the pain of both living with this diagnosis, and dealing with someone you care for having this diagnosis.  Leonard's efforts to wean himself off medication are especially heart-wrenching. 

Supposedly Leonard is modeled after David Foster Wallace, an author I'm not familiar with (so yet another allusion I didn't get), and some have said Mitchell is based on Eugenides himself.

Although set in the early 1980s, the story has a timeless quality to it and could have just as easily been set today. While I wasn't the best audience for this book, I'm sure there are others out there who will love it.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[This advance reader edition will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

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