Oh, I Admit It. I’m Pretentious: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

If you were to judge my reading habits by the reviews on this blog, you would probably think I read mostly YA fiction. But I don’t review every book I read and choose to focus on YA lit here because of my professional interest. I’ve decided to try and be more balanced in both my reading and what I review here, so going forward there will be a more even mix of literature intended for an adult audience, young adult fiction, and nonfiction.

I loved The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, so I had a good feeling I’d like The Marriage Plot. The premise intrigued me. I went to college when Derrida was old hat. I read him in high school while learning kritik theory for competitive debate. Yeah, I was a nerd. But I also devoured the classics at the same time—the novels of Jane Austen and other literature that relies on the marriage plot. I loved them both. I couldn’t appreciate the irony of that at the time, but I do now. Which was why the story appealed to me—I like a self-refrential satirical romp any day.

Through the intersecting lives of three college students—Madeleine, an English major, Mitchell, her Religious Studies friend who is hopelessly in love with her, and her boyfriend, Leonard, a manic-depressive biologist—Eugenides weaves a story as much about literature as love.

Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives. (source: Goodreads)

Well, at least some people’s lives. This is a book written with a specific audience in mind: Literary People. Though I don’t think this will be remembered as Eugenides’ great novel, I still enjoyed it. I also enjoy fluffy vampire paperbacks and steampunk erotica and Tolstoy. I like them all for different reasons. A lot of people criticize this novel for being “trite” and “pretentious” and full of “white people problems” and they are all right. I recognize that when men write about relationships it is called “great literature” and when women do it, it is called “women’s fiction,” and I think that is a false dichotomy.  That doesn’t prevent me from enjoying Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed and The Marriage Plot, just like I can read Jonathan Franzen’s essay “How to Be Alone” and tweet about it.

The characters are criticized for being unlikeable, but I generally like unlikeable characters, which is why The House of Mirth and The Catcher in the Rye are among my favorite novels. Even if they weren’t admirable, all three main characters were compelling. Madeleine was hard to sympathize with, Mitchell was aggravating, and Leonard’s disease was unsettling. A lot of real people share these traits.

The structure of the plot was impressive to me. I loved the way Eugenides moved between the three characters limited third-person point of view and jumped back and forth in time. While both Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides where both better in terms of plot and characters, in my opinion, The Marriage Plot was still good.

If you can appreciate this novel for what it is and have a sense of humor, there’s a chance you’ll like it. I did.

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2 thoughts on “Oh, I Admit It. I’m Pretentious: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

  1. good review. it is definitely a book for it’s target audience only. i’m reading middlesex this fall and I’m looking forward to it. I had difficulty enjoying parts of this novel though, it being so self-aware and “Meta”, however it was interesting. Then again, you and I are literary and a bit pretentious. LOL. Still, I can’t give it more than a 3/5.

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