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The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides

2011/12/03

As a librarian who reads voraciously, I was pretty embarrassed to realize that I had only successfully read one book (“The Pale King”) out of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2011, although I had made a valiant attempt at a few others. One of my coworkers pointed out “The Marriage Plot” as being extremely popular, so I picked it up this weekend during a particularly slow seven-hour shift at work. And somehow, between the occasional patron and filling the printer with yet another ream of paper, I managed to polish off the entire novel.

The story opens with Madeleine, an English major about to graduate from Brown University, trying to decide what to do with her life now that her plans for the summer have fallen through, having broken up with her boyfriend Leonard, with whom she had planned to move to Cape Cod. On the morning of graduation, Madeleine has just awoken, hungover from a party, to the questions of her parents regarding her immediate future. From here, the story jumps backwards and forwards in the timeline, introducing Madeleine to Leonard, chronicling a budding freshman friendship with a young man named Mitchell, following Leonard’s admittance to a psychiatric hospital after a long battle with manic depression. Throughout are interwoven literary, religious, and philosophical references, including research sources for Madeleine’s senior thesis, which she titles “The Interrogative Mood: Marriage Proposals and the (Strictly Limited) Sphere of the Feminine.”

When I began this book, I thought I was going to love it: a novel about a young English major, the opening paragraph describing the books on her shelves and what they implied. I felt this way for the first section of the book; even in the second section, where the couple moves to Cape Cod, I was convinced that I was enjoying the story, recognizing some of the towns and landmarks mentioned. And though the narrative of one character’s struggle with manic depression was engrossing and well-developed, by the end of the novel, I found that, like the main character, I wasn’t really in love with the story, or at least, not the way I thought I was going to be.

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