Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “jeffrey eugenides”

Janel’s #CBR4 Review 46 The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

This book is a great portrait of college life in the 80’s- undergrads not sure what to do next and unexpected relationships.  I was disappointed with the lack of strong women characters within this book. I found Leonard annoying and Marshall complex and most interesting of all the characters. Madeline just seemed to be wasting her potential.

Eugenides really dives into psychology, religion and biology to backfill the characters and plots.  When I first started reading the book, I had a hard time getting past the psychology heavy description.

Again another book that got lots of buzz, but I had a hard time seeing the appeal and I haven’t read any of his other books.

lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #13: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

            I think there have been three or four reviews of The Marriage Plot so far on the CBR4 blog, which really encouraged me to read the book. I have loved other books by Eugenides, and after seeing reviews I got on a super long wait list at the library. I really enjoyed reading this book, in part because it felt so relatable in some ways. The novel follows three recent college graduates in the year or so after graduating from Brown University in the early 1980’s.

Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell are all somewhat lost in their own way, finding fellowships, applying to grad school, and traveling abroad in the same way that my friends and I did. For me, the characters drifted in and out of likeability, but I wasn’t as attached to the characters as I was to their story. Reading The Marriage Plot felt like following the lives of distant college friends – ones I didn’t like too much and wasn’t extremely close with, but I was still interested in snooping in their lives, seeing what happened to them and how they turned out. I think it’s a testament to Eugenides’ writing that I was still so engrossed in the novel and enjoyed it as much as I did while writing not-so-likeable characters. Their flaws made the novel much more interesting, and I cringed when they said horrible things to one another, made terrible decisions, or when I thought they were losing control.

The writing switches between perspectives of the three characters, and I think that was a fantastic way to flesh out the story, while still keeping the internal narratives of each person separate. I loved it when Eugenides switched between characters, so that I could see another point of view on the same event, seeing what Mitchell thought about Leonard and Madeleine, or a new take on Leonard and Mitchell’s interactions. Overall, this was a pretty great book (I’ve recommended it to three friends already), and if you’ve read and enjoyed other novels by Eugenides, you’ll definitely like this one.

HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review #25: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Two things make love triangles so damn appealing – they often occur in real life, and they feed our fantasies about being desirable.   There’s no irritating cliche here, where it’s obvious who the protagonist will choose, and the third party is there to solely create artificial hardship.  The Marriage Plot is about real, raw love for two people and Madeline’s frustrating inability to choose.  Life is messy, and The Marriage Plot accurately reflects the recklessness of youth, the paralysis of college graduation, and what it means to find yourself in your twenties.

Madeline is an upper middle class, Victorian romance-obsessed English major desperate for her own Mr. Darcy. For Leonard, facing a grueling life long battle with bipolar disorder, Madeline is an anchor, a life raft saving him from his illness. For Mitchell, a religious studies major struggling with what he believes, Madeline is his spiritual ideal,  his destiny.

Madeline loves Leonard, partially for his illness. She is graduating from college, with no job, no idea of to do – and she wants to be needed. So she sets up house with Leonard. Mitchell, despite her protests, is “the one who got away” – the one without the stigma of mental illness, the one who reminds her of her youth, the one who was always there, flattering her with his desire.

Possible spoilers after the jump…

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #8: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The shocking thing about the five Lisbon sisters was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brasserie draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters’ breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear.”

This marks the first (probably not really but I can’t think of another example) time I have read the book after I’ve seen the film which made for an unusual reading experience as the film is such as straight adaptation of the book. Having said that I love the film, and so loved the book as well. Whilst I found that my familiarity with the film did not dampen my enjoyment (enjoyment is not quite the right for this quiet and melancholy book), I would have liked to discover it without knowing the story inside out. It is a carefully put together and unique story that will get under your skin. Fans of the film just definitely seek it out.

The full review is on my blog.

First Line: ‘On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese – the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.’

Try it if you liked: A Pale View of the Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro or The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Shaman’s Cannonball Read #CBR04 review #05: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

I loved Middlesex. It offered a mix of humour and drama that appealed to me and kept me turning the pages. So Eugenides’ new book was eagerly anticipated.

Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell are the three corners of a love triangle that’s spiced up by mental illness, religious self-discovery and existential agony. We follow these characters through their journey to find happiness. It’s a painful, difficult journey, both for the characters and for the reader.

You can read the rest of my review here.

Amurph11’s #CBRIV Review #2, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides

So, here’s the thing about reviewing The Marriage Plot: it does not matter what I, or anyone else, says about it. If you are the type of person who would want to read The Marriage Plot you will read it, regardless of what I say. Likewise, if you are the type of person who is uninterested in The Marriage Plot, nothing I will say will induce you to pick it up. This is perhaps as it should be, because at it’s most basic The Marriage Plot is profoundly unrelatable to anyone but the narrow swath of humanity to which it speaks to: the bookish, Victorian lit major from a small liberal arts college; and the bookish, philosophically inclined social outcast whose romantic relationships are limited to the unrequited. Basically, the only people who are likely to read and enjoy this book are people who have either read and enjoyed Middlesex (who may be disappointed), or people who read the dust jacket and felt some sort of kinship with one of the above characters: Madeleine (the former), or Mitchell (the latter). I leave out the other main character Leonard because I don’t think he would deign to read a novel, immersed in Barthes as he is.

The Marriage Plot is a pretty straight forward love-triangle story. Madeleine is a blank canvas of a college girl who has colored in her lines with Jane Austen, George Eliot and the Bronte sisters. Mitchell is a college boy who tends to tread just this side of social acceptability and whose main pursuits are reading and pining. And then there is Leonard, the profoundly unlikable jagged third point of this love triangle, a supposedly charismatic manic-depressive who sustains himself on Derrida and Fellini. Let me back up for a moment: I went to film school for a brief period of time (before I realized that it’s incredibly difficult to get a job in film industry with a film degree since everyone, even industry professionals, hates film students), so Leonard is my kryptonite. My version of a Nam flashback, if you will. He’s unbearable in his need to be intellectually superior. He has distinct tastes, but enjoys absolutely nothing. In defense of the author,  there is a reason for these character flaws: Leonard has a particularly profound case of manic-depression, a condition that is simply and eloquently explained (albeit with a standard Kierkegaard douche-reference) in this passage: “This is the deal with me: I’m ready to make the Kierkegaardian leap. My heart’s ready. My brain’s ready. But my legs won’t budge. I can say ‘Jump’ all day long. Nothing happens.” Nonetheless, the author’s attempts to make his charisma seem worth not only putting up with his condition but also his insufferable pretentions and occasional cruel indifference aren’t entirely successful. Part of this is because Eugenides treads too closely to the middle: in what was perhaps a desire to preserve the blank innocence of Madeleine, he doesn’t go far enough to characterize her relationship with Leonard as abusive (though it has some hallmarks), but neither does he romanticize it. Instead, he briefly immerses her in it and then whips her right back out as quickly as one might blanche vegetables, and though she goes through the motions of grief (or at least two of them – moving back in with her parents and crying often), one gets the feeling that she will emerge from what should have been a fairly traumatizing experience largely unscathed. And of course, Mitchell, the perpetually aggrieved always-a-friend-never-a-boyfriend , is waiting in the wings (briefly, the wings are located in Calcutta, a weirdly dissected section of the plot that seemed to belong in a different novel).

In fact, though for the most part I enjoyed reading the novel and it was certainly well-written, the only redeeming quality for me was in its ending (and here lie spoilers, so be forewarned). In the end, Madeleine chooses neither points of her love triangle in the end, defying the conventions of the novels she loves so much, and decides instead to try living life as a straight line. This would have been a much more affecting ending  if Madeleine hadn’t been such a non-entity of a character in the first place. Even her ultimate decision isn’t her own, but is instead projected onto her by Mitchell (who is also somewhat of a non-entity, characterized only by his longing, both romantic and religious). And it’s a shame, because hidden very, very deeply beneath the arduous plot is the hint of a good message: there’s a passage toward the end about the difficulty of finding solitude in love, and that seed, when taken to it’s logical outgrowth, proves what I think might be the point of the novel (though I had to reach for it): lasting relationships don’t tend to be all-consuming. What you really want out of a lifelong partner is someone who will let you alone once in awhile. Two halves don’t make a whole, but two wholes can make a reasonably functional relationship (if they’re not assholes). The trouble is, no one in this book is a whole yet (though 33.3% of them are arguably indeed assholes). Which is why the ending, despite the winding road it takes to get there, is ultimately satisfying: instead of dooming his characters to never-ending fictional matrimony, Eugenides allows them to skate away from him, not yet fully formed, to build themselves into real people away from his authoritative pen. Even though I didn’t like any of them very much, you get the feeling that he looked at his characters with the kind of cringing affection one has when they stumble upon their high school poetry. And it’s that outlook, coupled with the satisfyingly unsatisfying ending, that  makes it ultimately worth the read.

Doodlepants’s #CBR4 Review #1: The Marriage Plot: A Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides

As a huge fan of both Middlesex and the Virgin Suicides, I had high expectations when starting Jeffrey Eugenides’s newest novel, The Marriage Plot.  Sadly I did not feel that The Marriage Plot lived up to my expectations.

The Marriage Plot follows Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell, as they transition from Brown University of the 1980’s into the real world.   Madeleine, a wealthy young woman from New Jersey, spends her time lost in victorian novels.  She falls in love with Leonard, a troubled young man from Oregon, who becomes consumed by his struggles with bipolar disorder.  Mitchell, is secretly in love with Madeleine throughout their college years, post graduation he travels to Europe and Indian in the hope of escaping his unrequited love of Madeleine through a spiritual quest.  One of the strength’s of Eugenides’ novel is the distinct voice he gives to each of his characters.  The chapters transition seamlessly from narrator to narrator allowing the reader to become immersed in the individual experiences of each character.  Additionally, the same story is often told multiple times from different perspectives allowing the reader to form their own opinions about the events that have occurred. As someone who has had first hand experience loving someone with bipolar disorder, I found Leonard’s chapters to be the most poignant.  It was impossible to not get sucked into his mania and to feel sympathetic to him.  While not the most likable character, I felt the most empathy towards Leonard.  Madeleine and Mitchell were far less likable.  Although they had relatable moments, both characters came across as whiny and self serving.

The actual plot of The Marriage Plot is pleasant enough.  My biggest complaint about the novel, and probably an aspect of the novel that would be pure joy for all you English majors our there, was the constant reference to both classic novels and philosophy.   Although I consider myself to be well read, reading The Marriage Plot was like being on the outside of an inside joke.  Page after page made reference to the classics and though I have been inspired to go back and read some of those books I previous ignored (and heck, I have 51 more books to go so I’ll have to touch on the classics eventually), I found the constant references made it harder for me to settle in and read an otherwise well written and enjoyable story.

The Marriage Plot has its shining moments and I would encourage any Eugenides lover to read it, if nothing else of the pure joy of reading 300something pages of Eugenides’ writing again.  But, if you are new to Eugenides check out Middlesex or The Virgin Suicides first.

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