Amy's Reviews > The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
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's review
Dec 13, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: finished-out-of-a-sense-of-obligati
Read in December, 2011

This is the sort of book that makes me wonder if majoring in literature was really the best thing I could have done with my college years. Because, to be perfectly honest, I did not see anything special at all about this book. As I have so many other times, I will now present my issues with the story to you in a list, albeit in no particular order.

1. Very little happens in the present tense in this story, which has nothing at all to do with the fact that it's set in 1982/1983 (although there are issues, too, with that), but with the fact that most of the action takes place in retrospect. A chapter will begin with a character in a particular situation, but will then flashback to everything that transpired to lead them to that situation. Then, when the action catches up to the present, it switches to another character, who is only momentarily present before slipping into retrospect. Whether this was a deliberate stylistic choice on Eugenide's part or if maybe he just watched too many episodes of Lost while he was writing it, the result is that it makes the novel seem lacking in substance; many things have happened, but nothing is actually happening.

2. Also damaging the presence of the book is that there are several points - too many, really - where the action gives way and we end up reading sections of books the characters are reading, or, more likely, have read. Which, again, maybe was an attempt at creating layers to the story, but overall the effect was that of a student who, lacking anything interesting to say in a paper, quotes too lengthily from the source material.

3. The characters graduate from college in the Spring of 1982 (or possibly 1983), and the story follows them through to 1983. So the '80s play a big role in the setting, yet many of the "period" details are incorrect. Or maybe it's just my faulty memory that makes it seem like iced coffee did not gain widespread acceptability as a beverage until much later in the decade, or perhaps even early in the '90s; or maybe it's just because I wasn't drinking iced coffee in 1983. And the same for Fanny packs - maybe they were easy to come by in 1982, they just hadn't made it to Merion, Pennsylvania, by then. But, then there is the Cosby Sweater reference, and you know what? That show didn't premiere until 1984; that can be verified. So, whether the kids graduated in 82 or 83, they definitely would NOT be referring to anyone's garment as a Cosby sweater. So maybe I was right about the iced coffee and the fanny pack after all? And that's annoying - throwing in little details to lend verisimilitude to your story only works if your details are accurate. Get a fact checker.

4. But then, what if it's on purpose? What if the weird timeline and the inaccurate period details are part of the point of a deeper point about the intricacies of time and the fragility of memory? I wouldn't question myself if this book were written by somebody else, but this is Jeffrey Eugenides! He's a big deal! Would he really allow an error that could be corrected by all of 12 seconds of research on the internet to appear in his book? Am I maybe just not getting it?

5. None of the characters are especially likable. Madeleine seems to have no discernible personality whatsoever, and even though there are extensive and thorough flashbacks to every detail of her relationship with Leonard, I never bought really bought it. Mitchell had slightly more personality in that he traveled a lot more than Madeleine, but mostly he was remarkable for having, in a book full of characters with obtrusive names (something I've rarely encountered outside of SciFi, ahem, Graceling) the very stupidest one. Never did I care what happened with any of these characters; only by the grace of having been written by Jeffrey Eugenides did this book not end up on the "abandoned-without-finishing" list.

6. There are just way too many freaking words in this book. Not that it's too long - it's just so, so overwritten, to no effect. The language is not beautiful; there are no stunning descriptions, no passage that provides deeper insight into what it means to be human, or what it meant to be a young adult in the 1980s. Just lots of words stuffed into a space that had no room for them, and no need either; I am loath to recommend bulimia as a solution to anything, but this book really could have used a good purge.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Amy (new)

Amy I think you might appreciate this:

message 2: by Amy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Amy I'm glad to see that I'm not the only person who didn't like this, even though our reasons for disliking were so different. I wish I knew there was a whole literary feud happening while I was reading it.

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