Nora's Reviews > The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
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's review
Nov 07, 2011

liked it

I won't waste time reiterating what many other Goodreads folks have already articulated here in regards to both the pros and cons of The Marriage Plot.

I am left with one question after reading it.
The question is:
Is this literature?

And if I have to answer, my answer is, No.

I temporarily abandoned the more difficult "The History of History" to read this book. Was "The Marriage Plot" lighter? Check. Was it "zippy?" Check, in parts (other parts slagged). Did I enjoy the satirical references to my alma mater and its dichotomy of fauxhemian hyperintellectualism backed by old East Coast money? You bet I did.

Did this book change me at all? Nope. Did I think more deeply about the human condition? Nope. Was I at any point blown away by beauty, a resonant image, a finely-crafted turn of language? Nope, nope, nope.

Will Jeffrey Eugenides retain his faculty position, receive a nice advance for whatever he writes next, and maybe buy a summerhome with this one (if he doesn't have one already)? Certainly.

It is the same feeling I get when I rent a romantic comedy on DVD: I know it will be kind of empty, but I do it anyway, seeking some kind of easy reprieve from my own life and if truth be told, my own work.

But where is the literature?
Where is the sense that a book could possibly change a life?

Does commodification only happen, by definition, to that which doesn't strive too hard for meaning?

And yet, as a commodity, not as literature, this book gave me something I wanted--a somewhat pleasurable read, with only mild annoyances or moments when I had a hard time getting through a scene. Hence my three stars and my ultimate review that I "liked" it.

Yet is it worth it in the end to be left wrestling with such a large question about what contemporary literature is? (OK, I cop that this question has obviously been brewing for a long time and is not the direct result of solely reading this book.)

See my review of Jennifer Egan's "A Visit from the Goon Squad" for similar concerns. If pressed, I'd say I preferred the Egan: I still remember her character Sasha's totemic symbol in Italy all these months later---it had beauty, and power. I doubt I will remember anything about The Marriage Plot, even though one of its triad of characters is on a quest.

Postscript to this review: In no way do I claim to be a Victorianist, or even a semiotician, but the book set these two tropes up very heavily in its first third and failed to integrate them well in its later acts, other than, "Oh, this is a love triangle; oh, this is a story about marriage."

Final question: is perhaps the fault with me, for preferring tragedy over comedy? For preferring complexity to ease, but then engaging with ease anyway and then, futilely, wanting it to still have value?


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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Dirk (new)

Dirk Damned fine review, Nora. In fact, I think I prefer your thoughtful analysis to most of the other writing I've ingested this year. Thanks.

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