Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

PerpetualIntern’s #CBR4 Review #3: The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides

Oh how I loved this book.  Perhaps it was because my last novel was such a failure, but reading Jeffery Eugenides’ writing is simply wonderful.  If you haven’t read his best known work, Middlesex, I highly recommend it.  I came to The Marriage Plot after my best friend read it and recommended it.  Since I loved Middlesex so much I was ready for a deep character analysis, some science (there always seems to be some in his books) and an intricately woven story.  I was not disappointed.

The Marriage Plot follows three characters, Mitchell, Madeleine and Leonard, through their last days of college and their emergence into the real world after graduation.  Mitchell was a religious studies major, Leonard a biology major, and Madeleine an English major who specialized in the Jane Austen era of novels, when happy endings and a marriage signified the end of the plot.  It is a love triangle that is complicated by the friendship of Mitchell and Madeleine and the manic depression of Leonard.  The story is told in turn by all three characters, recounting the same events from different perspectives.  Eugenides deftly moves from voice to voice and does an especially fantastic job of inhabiting Leonard.  Describing what it feels like to struggle with manic depression, the extremes of the disease and what is does to a person’s body, is not an easy task but the reader is fully transported into Leonard’s battle.  This allows for a character who would otherwise be vilified for his actions to become sympathetic.

Beyond the characters, Eugenides delves deeply into their passions.  Mitchell’s passages are interwoven with religious exploration and knowledge and Madeleine’s are constantly alluding to Victorian novels.  Leonard’s chapters are scientific as he tries to understand his disease from a clinical perspective.  In doing this, Eugenides creates virtual subplots that are fascinating.  Religious studies and Victorian novels are two of my favorite subjects, so perhaps these subplots are one reason I loved the book so much.  For those not interested in any of the majors of Mitchell, Madeleine and Leonard, however, I could see this novel being somewhat inaccessible.  For instance, in the beginning of the book Madeleine and Leonard are in a class on Derrida and the philosophy of deconstruction.  I had no interest and no background in this subject, and had this subplot continued, Eugenides probably would have lost a lot of my attention.  Luckily for me, he turned his attentions to romantic novels and religion, so I was a happy reader.

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