Well, I didn't hate this as much as I expected to from the first two hundred pages or so? What saved it from complete one-star infamy for me was, prim...moreWell, I didn't hate this as much as I expected to from the first two hundred pages or so? What saved it from complete one-star infamy for me was, primarily, that Leonard finally got his own section... albeit more than halfway through the book. He was still essentially written out of the story in a way that's really troubling, but at least Eugenides bothered to allow him a perfunctory perspective, I guess? (I know, I'm giving him too much credit.) And the one quote in this entire four-hundred-page novel that I marked because I liked it came from that section:
Often he had the impression that the person answering questions from the scratchy armchair was a dummy he was controlling, that this had been true throughout his life, and that his life had become so involved with operating the dummy that he, the ventriloquist, had ceased to have a personality, becoming just an arm stuffed up the puppet's back. (255)
[Later edited to add: No, you know what, it's a one-star book. It's getting one star. ENOUGH BEING A SHRINKING VIOLET ABOUT GIVING ONE-STAR RATINGS, L.]
The treatment of Leonard wasn't the only problem I had with this book. I also find Eugenides's prose, here and elsewhere, incredibly obnoxious, pedestrian, and overly stylized but deficient in substance or soul. I mean, he hits you with this mess on the second page of The Marriage Plot:
Early June, Providence, Rhode Island, the sun up for almost two hours already, lighting up the pale bay and the smokestacks of the Narragansett Electric factory, rising like the sun on the Brown University seal emblazoned on all the pennants and banners draped up over campus, a sun with a sagacious face, representing knowledge. But this sun—the one over Providence—was doing the metaphorical sun one better, because the founders of the university, in their Baptist pessimism, had chosen to depict the light of knowledge enshrouded by clouds, indicating that ignorance had not yet been dispelled from the human realm, whereas the actual sun was just now fighting its way through cloud cover, sending down splintered beams of light and giving hope to the squadrons of parents, who’d been soaked and frozen all weekend, that the unseasonable weather might not ruin the day’s festivities. (4)
Not to mention all the shallow intellectual name-dropping; the stereotype-driven dissection of The (Only) Reasons People Become Undergrad English Majors;* the incredibly offensive interlude where Mitchell's in Paris being tormented by his best friend's Evil Feminist Girlfriend (seriously? seriously?);** and for that matter, the fact that Mitchell--a painfully transparent authorial insert--not only is supposed to be likable(?) / admirable(?!) / sympathetic to the reader but also gives shape to the book, so that the other two protagonists (the woman and the crazy person! easily written off!) turn out to be there mostly just to further his spiritual journey.
But it was how Leonard was dealt with, and Eugenides's take on mental illness, that ruined this book for me. Yep, breaking up with your short-term college boyfriend is like being clinically depressed (page 122)! Okay, sure! And Marriage Plot goes downhill from there!
*She'd become an English major for the purest and dullest of reasons: because she loved to read. [. . .] Some people majored in English to prepare for law school. Others became journalists. The smartest guy in the honors program, Adam Vogel, a child of academics, was planning on getting a Ph.D. and becoming an academic himself. That left a large contingent of people majoring in English by default. Because they weren't left-brained enough for science, because history was too dry, philosophy too difficult, geology too petroleum-oriented, and math too mathematical—because they weren't musical, artistic, financially motivated, or really all that smart, these people were pursuing university degrees doing something no different from what they'd done in first grade: reading stories. English was what people who didn't know what to major in majored in. (20-21)
Thanks for explaining that one to me, Jeffrey!
**[Claire, after a discussion of the menstrual mikvah:] "The whole institutionalized form of Western religion is all about telling women they're inferior, unclean, and subordinate to men. And if you actually believe in any of that stuff, I don't know what to say."
"You're not having your period right now, are you?" Mitchell said.
Claire's expressive face went blank. "I can't believe you just said that," she said.
"I was just kidding," Mitchell said. His face was suddenly hot.
"What a total sexist thing to say."
"I was kidding," he repeated, his voice tight. (138-139)
And on and on. How dare feminist readers ever critique "certain once-canonical writers (always male, always white)" (141)? How dare they accuse sensitive men of misogyny? How dare they object to being objectified? etc, etc, etc.(less)
"At some point on your road you have to turn and start walking back towards yourself. Or the past will pursue you and bite the nape of your neck, leav...more"At some point on your road you have to turn and start walking back towards yourself. Or the past will pursue you and bite the nape of your neck, leave you bleeding in the ditch. Better to turn and face it with such weapons as you possess."
I have such mixed feelings about this book--more mixed than about almost any other book in recent memory. More later?(less)