The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 2011

December 6th, 2011

Jeffrey Eugenides is not a prolific writer. Having achieved considerable success with his debut novel, The Virgin Suicides in 1993, Eugenides did not return to the literary world for nearly a decade when he released his second novel, Middlesex, in 2002. Middlesex was a rare achievement, a book that captured both the hearts and imaginations of a broad reading public and the attention of critics who spend their time ruminating on the state of contemporary American literature. Middlesex made Eugenides a household name and garnered many literary accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Nearly another decade would pass before Eugenides would complete his third novel, The Marriage Plot.

We began The Marriage Plot with trepidation wondering how Eugenides could possibly top Middlesex. Luckily, we were hooked from page one, enthralled by his signature elegant and witty prose. In pace, narrative and subject matter, this book is a very different one from his previous efforts. The only point of convergence is that The Marriage Plot, like his other works, is a coming-of-age story, focusing on three characters—Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell—as they graduate from Brown University in 1982 and enter that unique moment in their lives when they are confronted with both extreme uncertainty and limitless possibilities. Beginning on graduation day and moving back to the past to provide context before tracing the characters’ journeys after graduation, Eugenides aptly captures that defining period in everyone’s life: the moment when you transition from adolescence to adulthood.

While Eugenides’ writing style may fool you into thinking The Marriage Plot is a quick read, the emotional depth and thematic complexity of the work benefits from prolonged consideration. Through the lives of his characters, he probes such weighty topics as the nature of first love, mental illness, and spirituality. The book also acts as a meta-narrative of sorts, exploring the nature of literature and literary modernism through the lens of such influential thinkers as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes. Don’t be put off if you lack a literature or philosophy degree and the names Derrida and Foucault are meaningless to you – there is still plenty of insight that can be gleaned from this extremely engaging novel. As the days get shorter and the temperature colder, The Marriage Plot is the perfect book to curl up with by the fire to escape all the insanity of the holiday season.

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