Neil's Reviews > The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
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Apr 07, 12

bookshelves: tournament-of-books-2012
Read from March 28 to April 03, 2012

I didn't read this until after The Tournament of Books, so I'd already seen some of the frustrations with this book, but I think two of its shortcomings would be painfully obvious to most people:

1. Mitchell, one-third of the romantic triangle we spend roughly equal amounts of time with, would probably rate little more than a few paragraphs in the life stories of the other two, and he continuously feels like a graft from another story rather than something integral to this one.

2. Madeleine, the female character in the triangle, feels unnecessarily flat and without meaningful agency. The story is set among academics facing the proliferation of deconstructionist and feminist theories in the early 80s, which seemingly should coincide with more possibilities for her, but she's instead cast as just choosing between two possible partners rather than finding a way of life that's right for her. And maybe it's more realistic to show that just because you read some Barthes and Kristeva doesn't make it easy to choose a future markedly different from your parents', but it still feels like Madeleine gets the short end of the creative stick here.

And yet, former English grad student that I am, I liked hanging out with these characters for a week. Eugenides does a great job of creating the college setting and shifting importance of particular relationships and of academic pursuits (unlike Harbach in _The Art of Fielding_). And some of the diversions which don't seem to relate to much else in the book--particularly the various forms of Mitchell's religious searching--are pretty interesting on their own.

So: messy but still with charms.
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