Book Review: "The Marriage Plot" by Jeffrey Eugenides

In a Nutshell

Thwarted love, intellectual angst, spiritual agony, mental illness, and post-collegiate ennui… OMG, this is my life!

The Whole Enchilada

Everywhere I looked during the months of October and November all I saw was ads for or reviews of The Marriage Plot, so I was very excited to get the book in my November Indiespensible shipment. Everything I had heard or read about the book said that it was a fantastic piece of writing, a compelling story, a well-drawn character study, referencing a number of my favorite classic novels… in essence, everything that I love. So why did I feel so blasé when I finished it?

The Marriage Plot tells the story of Maddie, Mitchell, and Leonard, three college students ensnared in a love triangle as only college students can be. As passionate romantics, however, this love triangle follows them through the years following graduation, as Maddie settles into a serious but troubled relationship with Leonard, Leonard struggles with his worsening manic-depression, and Mitchell takes his angry and confused broken heart to Europe to try to find answers in religion.

Everything that I had read about this book was true. Eugenides is an excellent writer and storyteller; his prose is beautiful, his characters are memorable and engaging, his plotting is perfectly paced. The story is told in sections from each character’s point of view, and it is telling that I was disappointed when each section ended and I had to leave that character’s fascinating mind, yet always delighted to jump into the mind of the next character. And as for Leonard, I have never found a more insightful, sympathetic, or down-to-earth description of manic-depression in all my reading.

In the end, I think my ambivalence to the book stems from the fact that the end was not quite what I had been hoping for or building up to (although I can’t let myself dislike a book for such a shallow reason) and the fact that it had been built up so much in my mind before I read it that my expectations were too high. Then again, I am a former Lit. major with an interest in theology and philosophy who is married to someone with a scientific turn of mind… Perhaps it felt too much like reading about my own experiences and insecurities to be as completely engrossing as it might otherwise have been.

When I look back on my reading experience I can say that although I may not have been driven to forgo eating and sleeping in order to read it, I was always satisfied when I did pick it up, and I am able to continue contemplating the story and characters even weeks later. This is a good, strong, solid book. If you are at all curious or interested in it I think you will not regret giving it a chance.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: "The Marriage Plot" by Jeffrey Eugenides

  1. I skimmed your review a bit as I am reading this now, but your "nutshell" line pretty much sums it up. I am loving the feel of it even though it's not the type of book you run back to.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Ti. You're right on about the feel of it, it was a very *comfortable* book for me to read. I won't say anything more, as you are still reading, but I will be interested to read your review when you finish.

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