The books are far apart in quality, too. Like a myth, the novel imposes its own logic. In telling the story of five teenage sisters who kill themselves under the rapt gaze of the neighborhood boys, Eugenides showed a willingness to push to extremes, and the skill to bring it off once he got there. In making these judgments, of course — the novel was a huge best seller and a Pulitzer Prize winner, to boot — I am joining a minority of perhaps no more than one. But I found the whole thing utterly unpersuasive.

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For so funny a writer, The Marriage Plot is not very funny, and for so daring a one it is not very daring. It is just, not quite, a great novel, being a little too conventional for that. The "marriage plot" itself is its flimsiest suit. Its main success is the extended depiction of the three young figures on the cusp of adulthood, grappling with the wider world, and the oddly stressful weightlessness of a phase before life hardens and takes shape.

Or have we been forever diverted by the conceits of literary modernism and its attendant disruptions of narrative form? It is a bold stab, rather than an unqualified triumph.

The resolution is not neat but neither is it profound. Likeable as it is, there is a reason why the novels of do not centre around marriage proposals and tragically unopened letters.

In tilting the focus so emphatically towards the wholesome and ordinary, Eugenides seems to have restricted his access to his own considerable powers. The lively intelligence of the earlier books has little to grapple with in these mostly unremarkable characters as they make their intellectual and geographic grand tours, and consequently much of the writing veers between effortful smartness and a kind of half-hearted blah. What do we ever really know about these three? Eugenides takes many risks.

All of this makes the book a remarkable achievement. Eugenides benefits by the comparison: This book is sweeter, kinder, with a more generous heart. This time around, he pays his respects to the themes and form of the nineteenth-century novel, tracing the murky mating rituals of a group of young adults at the end of the twentieth century. Then again, I have trouble believing much of what Eugenides has to say about his characters. The Marriage Plot is stuffed with motivations, revelations, convenient historical tidbits and childhood back stories" - Alexandra Schwartz, The Nation "Stylistically, control is the watchword.

Period markers Hill Street Blues, Chris Evert, the Walkman are rare and unobtrusive, defying the trend for Eighties-set novels to liberally scatter cultural references. There are longueurs. Fahrig skizzierend, manchmal geradezu referatartig beschreibt der Roman die Orte oder die Seelenlagen seiner Helden, so, als sei er nicht wirklich an ihnen interessiert.

Eugenides, it appears, is out to charm. Eugenides is a virtuoso, no doubt about it, and everything in this ill-conceived novel has worked out just as he intended.

The psychiatric ward is presented with just enough borrowed detail to have a rushed, CliffsNotes authenticity. As he delineates these fracturing lives, Eugenides also pursues cogent inquiries into religion and philosophy and sexuality as his young trio try to make sense of things.

He paints striking contrasting portraits of a fiercely rigorous religion scholar and an English professor whose slack-jawed infatuation with semiotics is likened to a midlife adulterous fling. Scene after scene ought to be trimmed, instead of stalling narrative momentum and making its plus pages seem even longer.

Dickens and Austen, those efficient storytellers, knew better. If you look closely enough, everything is here. Europe, Asia, America. No detail too small. No incident un-noticed. Except that, in an important sense, Eugenides cheats: his apparent bravery in acknowledging the anachronistic nature of his project is undermined by the very fact of that acknowledgement.

Such a closely controlled experiment stands no real risk of failure. But ultimately, Mr. Eugenides toys with high-gloss literary concepts like these for the purpose of rejecting them. The Marriage Plot invokes the theories of postmodernism in order to stuff them back into the bottle that the 20th century uncorked.

It is in developing a story that The Marriage Plot encounters problems, because when Mr. The glibness of the storytelling in The Marriage Plot seems gimmicky -- in a book assailing literary gimmickry. Eugenides is frighteningly perceptive about the challenges of mental illness" - Ron Charles, The Washington Post "Eugenides richtet seinen flau-ironischen Blick wie mit einem Fernrohr auf Menschen, mit denen er eigentlich nichts zu tun hat.

Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge and remind and warn you that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

Yes, Eugenides had a pretty good idea for a book -- and clearly knew exactly what the ending would be -- but instead of writing that book he put together The Marriage Plot. Worse yet, Eugenides has, in fact, pieced together something in order to be able to reach this conclusion, and while many parts and details are just fine, the bigger picture does not add up to much of a novel.

With the ends always in sight, Eugenides never gave a story a proper chance of developing. The Marriage Plot begins at Brown University, on graduation day Eugenides himself graduated from that institution in -- as did this reviewer, in Among those graduating is Madeleine Hanna, who is not so sure about her future -- but, for now, willing to hitch her wagon to her boyfriend, the brilliant but mentally ill Leonard Bankhead. For most of the novel, he is far apart from Madeleine and Leonard.

Even the most significant event near the conclusion of the book happens off-stage: readers suddenly find time has passed and the situation has changed, and only then come the flashbacks filling in the significant missing pieces. As to this story being Shakespearean -- hardly. Eugenides does have a few solid threads running through the text, some of which are more successful than others. Since the narrator holds the camera -- which then slowly sweeps across the bookshelves, across Henry James, Dickens, Trollope, etc.

Yes, Madeleine is of the bookish sort -- and fascinated by a certain era, too: the narrator insists that this personal library reveals her to clearly be: "Incurably Romantic".

Which was why, as she grew up on Wilson Lane, Madeleine had never torn it down. In a beautiful touch -- Eugenides does have a great eye for some detail -- when Madeleine finally gets copies of the publication: "It was a marvelous thing to see, even though a printing error had transposed two pages of the essay. Which is kind of a problem in what is, on some level s , meant to be a love story, of sorts. As also happens with so many writers who employ mentally ill protagonists, Eugenides winds up not knowing what to do with the character; in a complete cop-out one of several in the novel he literally abandons Leonard at the end of the novel.

All the characters take many of their cues from writing. Madeleine is, of course, worst of all. Give me a break! About how nobody would fall in love unless they read about it first?

Well, all you do is read about it. Tellingly, one of the few times she blossoms, and is actually happy, is when she escapes from Leonard and attends a conference on Victorian literature, where she fits right in and has a blast.

Leonard tries to pursue science, but his mental illness proves a big hurdle -- and he too winds up going nowhere. Still, along the way Eugenides uses their quests to offer some entertaining scenes. Set in the early s, The Marriage Plot is to only a small extent a novel of its times. Indeed, the novel feels old-fashioned in an entirely different way -- less a novel of the s than a failed Victorian one.

In another way, too, the novel is stuck in time, as Eugenides seems stuck in the college-graduation-age-uncertainty, not allowing his characters any real future yet.

Indeed, at the end of the novel only one character even has so much as convincingly concrete plans and those too involve putting real life on hold. Or rather he tried to. As is, marriage here is entirely unconvincing. The Marriage Plot is certainly readable, but also very frustrating, and deeply disappointing.

Orthofer, 10 January


The Marriage Plot

Oct 16, Gerald rated it it was amazing Masterful on many levels. Each seemed deeply flawed, and they are. Except you read along and find that Eugenides thinks we all are, just as deeply in our unique ways, and are none the lesser for it. This is a literary novel, in the best sense, and I was surprised to read some critics cramming it into the diminutive genre "campus novel. The marriage plot, you see, is the genre form of which that work is representative.


Jeffrey Eugenides on Liberal Arts Graduates in Love

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. 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. 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. 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.

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