I gave this book four stars because I truly enjoyed Eugenides' writing style and his thoughtful exploration of issues related to mental illness, biolo...moreI gave this book four stars because I truly enjoyed Eugenides' writing style and his thoughtful exploration of issues related to mental illness, biology/genetics and religion. It's clear that he did a ton of research for the book, and I do think that he is a master of developing his characters' back stories (which didn't perhaps get as out of hand as it did in Middlesex, which for me dragged on way too long).
Set in the early 80s, the three main characters are Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell. We meet them as they are graduating from Brown University, when Madeleine has recently broken up with Leonard after a brief and intense relationship, and Mitchell's friendship with Madeleine is strained (and his love for her is unrequited). The story rotates among the three viewpoints and continually jumps forward and backward in time.
We spend just over a year with the three characters as they move through the inevitable periods of self-exploration, uncertainty and drama that accompany the first year post-college. One character battles with bipolar disorder, referred to in the book as manic depression because hey, that's what they still called it then... Eugenides also takes us through complicated romantic and parental relationships, a first job, backpacking in Europe and India, and grad school applications without making the experiences seem trite.
I said I enjoyed the writing, and that's the main reason I connected with the book. However, I'm not sure Eugenides liked or understood his own character Madeleine. We don't truly get to see her true feelings or viewpoint or understand why she makes the decisions she does. I don't know if this is a male author not connecting with a female character, or if Eugenides just meant to have her be the archetypal young, pretty, vacuous girl in love with the idea of love and with being needed.
Regardless, I did like the book and found it a worthwhile read. My favorite line came not from one of the three characters, but from the annoyingly pretentious but somehow likeable Thurston Meems, who offers, "Parties bring my misanthropy into focus." I would have loved to hear more from Thurston, and from Madeleine's East Coast Brahmin mother Phylidda, both of whom escaped becoming caricatures.
Eugenides did say in an interview that he's not closing the door on revisiting these characters again in a future book. I'm in. I'd love to know what happened next.(less)
YAWN. Someone needs to give David Baldacci a copy of The Winner and remind him that he used to be able to generate a unique and interesting plot. This...moreYAWN. Someone needs to give David Baldacci a copy of The Winner and remind him that he used to be able to generate a unique and interesting plot. This book, while filled with twists and turns, was beyond unbelievable, and the twists and turns didn't even fall together at the end. After finishing the book I kept thinking, "That made no sense. Why would ___ be motivated to do ___?" with a myriad of options for the filling in each blank, and no good answers. The plot got so convoluted that I'm not even sure Baldacci understood it at the end.
And one last thing, can we please do away with Scooby Doo endings where bad guys explain why and how they did everything? Admittedly I am not a writer and cannot suggest alternative explanatory tools, but I do know that I read plenty of books by talented authors that do not resort to this method.(less)