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The Marriage Plotby Jeffrey Eugenides
Addressing the ubiquitous love triangle, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides is a perfectly executed character study of three college students — Leonard, Madeleine, and Mitchell — who variously are a couple, are not a couple, were a couple, were never a couple, or were almost a couple. Ah, young love! However, absolutely nothing Eugenides writes is frivolous or insubstantial. The painful sucker punch delivered in both Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides is absent in The Marriage Plot, but the book doesn't miss it. The Marriage Plot is long on emotion and so accurately reflects our inner self-talk of angst, love, regret, and need that it feels like reading someone's diary (or maybe our own). Taking on subjects as enormous as mental illness, classism, meaningful work, religious faith, higher education, charity, self-knowledge and the nature of relationships, The Marriage Plot asks the question: Is it sometimes better to not get what you want? Eugenides is a masterful writer who doesn't shy away from uncomfortable emotions, and in his hands everyday issues reveal a deep and complex truth. Once again, the very long wait between his books has definitely been worth it.
Synopses & Reviews
"There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel" (Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers).
The author of two beloved novels, Middlesex (bestselling winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, with more than 3 million copies sold) and the now-classic The Virgin Suicides (made into a haunting film by Sofia Coppola), is back — with a delicious novel about modern love.
Its the early 1980s — the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to the Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.
As Madeleine tries to understand why "it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth century France, real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead--charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy — suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old "friend Mitchell Grammaticus — whos been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange — resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.
Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biologicy laboratory on Cape Cod, but cant escape the secret responsible for Leonards seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of 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.
"Eugenides's first novel since 2002's Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex so impressively, ambitiously breaks the mold of its predecessor that it calls for the founding of a new prize to recognize its success both as a novel — and as a Jeffrey Eugenides novel. Importantly but unobtrusively set in the early 1980s, this is the tale of Madeleine Hanna, recent Brown University English grad, and her admirer Mitchell Grammaticus, who opts out of Divinity School to walk the earth as an ersatz pilgrim. Madeleine is equally caught up, both with the postmodern vogue (Derrida, Barthes) — conflicting with her love of James, Austen, and Salinger — and with the brilliant Leonard Bankhead, whom she met in semiotics class and whose fits of manic depression jeopardize his suitability as a marriage prospect. Meanwhile, Mitchell winds up in Calcutta working with Mother Teresa's volunteers, still dreaming of Madeleine. In capturing the heady spirit of youthful intellect on the verge, Eugenides revives the coming-of-age novel for a new generation The book's fidelity to its young heroes and to a superb supporting cast of enigmatic professors, feminist theorists, neo-Victorians, and concerned mothers, and all of their evolving investment in ideas and ideals is such that the central argument of the book is also its solution: the old stories may be best after all, but there are always new ways to complicate them. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"With this tightly, immaculately self-contained tale set upon pillars at once imposing and of dollhouse scale, namely, academia ('College wasn't like the real world,' Madeleine notes) and the emotions of the youngest of twentysomethings, Eugenides realizes the novel whose dismantling his characters examine." Booklist (Starred Review)
"A stunning novel — erudite, compassionate and penetrating in its analysis of love relationships...Dazzling work. Eugenides continues to show that he is one of the finest of contemporary novelists." Kirkus (Starred Review)
"This extraordinary, liquidly written evocation of love's mad rush and inevitable failures will feed your mind as you rapidly turn the pages. Highly recommended." Library Journal (Starred Review)
Madeleine Hanna was the dutiful English major who didn't get the memo. While everyone else in the early 1980s was reading Derrida, she was happily absorbed with Jane Austen and George Eliot: purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. Madeleine was the girl who dressed a little too nicely for the taste of her more Bohemian friends, the perfect girlfriend whose college love life, despite her good looks, hadn't lived up to expectations.
But now, in the spring of her senior year, Madeleine has enrolled in a semiotics course "to see what all the fuss is about," and, for reasons that have nothing to do with school, life and literature will never be the same. Not after she falls in love with Leonard Mortoncharismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Oregon boywho is possessed of seemingly inexhaustible energy and introduces her to the ecstasies of immediate experience. And certainly not after Mitchell Grammaticusdevotee of Patti Smith and Thomas Mertonresurfaces in her life, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.
The triangle in this amazing and delicious novel about a generation beginning to grow up is age-old, and completely fresh and surprising. With devastating wit, irony, and an abiding understanding of and love for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides resuscitates the original energies of the novel while creating a story so contemporary that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.
The author of two beloved novels, Middlesex (bestselling winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, with more than 3 million copies sold) and the now classic The Virgin Suicides (made into a haunting film by Sofia Coppola), is backwith a brilliant, funny, and heartbreaking novel about the glories and vicissitudes of young love.
About the Author
Jeffrey Eugenides was born in Detroit and attended Brown and Stanford Universities. His first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux to great acclaim in 1993, and was adapted into a film by Sofia Coppola. In 2003, Eugenides received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Middlesex, which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and France's Prix Medicis, and was selected for Oprah's Book Club. It has sold more than 3 million copies.
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