The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)

This is not a book about marriage, but it is a book about relationships.  It takes place in the 80’s where three twenty-something Brown graduates are trying to figure out what—and who—is important in their lives, and what their next step will be.  I suppose one could argue that they spend too much time pondering these big ideas and they should just jump into the job market and begin their life of responsibility without thinking so much about what really matters to them. On the other hand, one could also applaud them for truly trying to figure out what matters, what works, and what it all means.  We see the inner workings of Madeleine, the upper class girl who fights her privileged upbringing and seeks meaning through Victorian literature and the study of semiotics (while driving her new convertible).  And of Leonard Bankhead—whom she falls for—an intellectual, charismatic, manic-depressive struggling to keep his disease under control.  And finally, of Mitchell who reads Christian mysticism and floats off on a journey through Europe—to get Madeleine (whom he loves) off his mind—ending up working at the Home for Dying Destitutes in India and wondering what he actually believes about God and religion.  Perhaps I loved this book because it’s my era—college and beyond in the 80’s—but more than that, each character thinks, does, and says what so many of us did, might have thought, and maybe never said.  And the writing is fabulous: funny, witty, and thought-provoking.  In one scene, Mitchell reminisces about Detroit’s Greektown and his family upbringing there.  But now in his early 20’s, both Greektown and Mitchell have changed from his childhood days.  It’s now “a kitsch tourist destination” where Mitchell is “just another suburbanite, no more Greek than the artificial grapes hanging from the ceiling.” I remember driving to Greektown senior year in college and thinking how cool it was to be leaving Ann Arbor for a real Greek restaurant, not realizing how touristy the whole place was and how I was exactly the patron they counted on.

This novel immerses us in the intellectual world of literature and philosophy, the scientific world of brain chemistry and microbiology, and the religious world of Catholicism, Buddhism, and Atheism.  Great characters, great writing, and great ideas to ponder.  This is a fine book that I highly recommend. (fiction)

One comment

  1. Hi Bean, I really loved this book, too! So smart, clever, oh, everything I love about a good book! And, yes, it includes so many personal memories of the time period.


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