Molly's Reviews > The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
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's review
Dec 12, 11

really liked it
bookshelves: literary-fiction, recommended, 4-stars
Read from October 19 to December 06, 2011

** spoiler alert ** Ten years is a long time to wait for a book...and I have to say this one was worth the wait! I LOVED Middlesex (I like Virgin Suicides okay, but Middlesex ranks among my all-time favorite novels), so I was beyond excited when I discovered Eugenides had a new book coming out. I pre-ordered it and made sure it arrived at my house on its release day (I wanted a hard copy, not a Kindle copy...can't really explain why, just a feeling!).

Since I've been reading so much YA lately, and since love-triangles are apparently the new staple, I was prepared to find this one tiresome. I was glad to see that this is a love triangle done properly, maturely even. The novel follows three recent Brown University graduates -- Madeleine, Mitchell, and (to a lesser extent) Leonard -- as their lives intertwine in both the years leading up to and following graduation. Madeleine and Mitchell became friends early in their college experience, and both crossed paths with Leonard as well. Though Mitchell is in love with Madeleine, she never reciprocates, and ultimately ends up dating Leonard. Mitchell is predictably mopey about this, but copes in the past ways he knows how (international travel being one of them). Leonard, of course, comes with his own set of problems.

I both loved and related to Madeleine as a protagonist (yes, you could argue that all three share that title, but I was reading to follow Madeleine). She's the eternal fixer -- she knows that her life would be infinitely easier without Leonard, but she just can't help herself. She wants to fix him, and the few good moments make the bad moments (of which there are FAR more) worth it. I'm sure some people found her frustrating, but I found her to be a kindred spirit. I know what it's like to want to fix someone, to change them even. To convince yourself that YOU are the person who can make them "okay." Though he does spend time moping about Madeleine, and fixating on her relationship with Leonard, I like that Mitchell is at least somewhat proactive about his life. He does not just sit around waiting for Madeleine to come to her senses and love him back. This is what bothers me so much about the YA love triangles -- the female protagonist spends chapter after chapter waffling back and forth, and the two love interests just wait patiently for her to decide who she wants. Mitchell makes attempts at action, and I did love his "I choose me" ending -- I honestly think Madeleine woudl have stayed with him if he had asked, but both of them would have been miserable. By letting her go, he freed both of them.

Finally, as I mentioned in a progress update, I'm not so much a fan of Leonard. I would have been perfectly fine with him staying a mostly tertiary character. He was certainly secondary to both Mitchell and Madeleine's stories, comparatively speaking, so the attempts to flesh out his character fell flat for me. Probably because he reminded me so much of Holden Caulfield, and there are few books I dislike more than Catcher in the Rye. Any attempt to make Leonard sympathetic, to me, felt forced, a way to explain his behavior, and almost absolve him of it. I can't really put my finger on why that bothered me as much as it did, but it's honestly what kept me from giving this 5 stars.

Overall, a great read and as I said, well worth the wait. There is quite a bit of literary theory talk, since Madeleine is, by trade, a literary theorist herself. Since I'm a huge English nerd, working on my Masters in English, I actually enjoyed the theory sections and discussions, although I can see how it would bog you down if that's not your thing. Really, I was hooked from the opening paragraph.

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Reading Progress

10/28/2011 page 63
10/31/2011 page 92
23.0% "Enjoying this so far, but the extended flashbacks are wearing on me...I'm not entirely sure I know what day it is in "real time"."
11/01/2011 page 143
35.0% "Starting to enjoy this more...although if asked to describe the plot, I'm not quite sure I could answer definitively. I also feel a bit like I'm taking a course in literary theory...that would be tiresome if I weren't such a nerd!"
11/22/2011 page 287
71.0% "Leonard's story is starting to wear on me...I think it's because he reminds me of Holden Caulfield, and I despise Catcher in the Rye. I would really be okay with him being a tertiary character. I'm far more invested in Madelyn and Mitchell."
12/01/2011 page 321
79.0% "Finally got through the "Leonard does Holden Caulfield" section. Now Mitchell's being discontent in India..."
12/06/2011 page 377
93.0% "On the one hand, I'm frustrated with Madeleine and want to smack her. On the other, I can completely relate to the need to be a "fixer.""
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