Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides has an amazing way with characters. They're all so complex and yet so easy to get to know. I've been a fan of Eugenides from the start and it has always been who he writes about that draws me in. The plots are great too, but it's how the characters react to what's going on around them that truly makes Eugenides' book hard to put down (The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex, and The Marriage Plot).

The Marriage Plot follows three characters connected by the naive sense of love that emerges during one's college years. Madeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard are all attending Brown (in the 80's) when they meet as undergrads. All three are pretty smart and insightful students who thrive in academia. Madeleine is the literature lover, caught up in the world of writers like Austen. Mitchell is more of a theologian, thinking about seminary school. Leonard's area of study is science although he really just likes to philosophize and seem introspective. Mitchell (whose last name, Grammaticus, I just love) is in love with Madeleine; Madeleine is in love with Leonard; and Leonard is a manic depressive who need people more than he really feels any genuine emotion for.

The three graduate college and spend their first year in the real world coming to terms with their perceptions of love and reality. Expectations of the heart can really be unrealistic and over-romanticized and each character receives this rude awakening through their own personal journey even as their stories intertwine. In the end, you feel like everyone is going to be okay, that the big disappointment that first love can sometimes turn into will be something they'll all get over, but one of the three get a perfectly happy ending which just feels right as you're reading the story.

Eugenides shifts his focus between the three characters using a third person narrative that is extremely insightful into the mind of each character. You end up with the ability to view the same event from multiple perspectives with each telling feeling truly genuine. It makes you feel really present in the story no matter whose line you're following and a part of the inner struggles each character is facing. And you really do have to follow these characters as they travel all over the world from 1980's Calcutta where you could catch a glimpse of Mother Theresa to the opulence of Monaco.

Through this rich story of love, relationships, and personal growth toward adulthood, The Marriage Plot takes love and makes it difficult and real in an engaging and thought-provoking way and it's very much worth a read.

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