Book Review: The Marriage Plot   5 comments

Next up? The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.  A Christmas present.  No promises made.  The giver had not read the book.  Just a review and hoped I’d like it.  And I did and I didn’t.  It reminded my of Franzen’s Freedom which I also liked and didn’t like.  But I can put my finger more easily on my pulse for Marriage Plot than I could for Freedom.  (Probably because I read it more quickly.  Not an indictment either way about either author.  I’m just unsure.  Alright?  Feel free to convince me.)

Marriage Plot is about Madeleine, an English major whose romantic heart and mind is captured by the Victorian era (mostly) of literature.  She’s taken by the idea that “real” novels revolve around and end in a woman being married.  The so-called marriage plot.  And Madeleine is not cynical about this plot.  That’s the kind of literature that she loves.  Not surprisingly, then, Madeleine’s life revolves around her love interests.  Two men court Madeleine.  There’s the guy manic depressive who she thinks she might save from himself and the moody religious one who’s mad about her.  Of course, she chooses the first and disdains the second.

Despite all her attempts at true love, and despite the presence of two men who seem both to be actually good guys who might both love her, The Marriage Plot does not end in a marriage.  It ends in the end of a marriage. And the end of an almost love affair.  No happy unions here.  Instead, the three characters go off alone.  And that ending makes this novel good.  Read it–you’ll see.

And, also in the good category, is the fact that these two guys both do the noble thing in the end.  The Manic Depressive, now depressed, realizes he is ruining our heroine’s life.  And so, he leaves her even though he clearly thinks he needs her for his health and happiness.  The Religious Brooder also lets her go.  Even though he’s loved her from the first time that he saw her and sees no end to his love.  At the end of the novel, Madeleine is free.  And we know that this is best.  She doesn’t need a man to be happy and she needs some time without one to figure out who the hell she is.

But here’s the part I’m not sure about.  The end of the novel is told primarily from the two men’s perspectives.  They have done noble things and left.  Madeleine seems  utterly dependent on their good judgment.  And, to be honest, we never really get any sense that she’s in control of her life.  She depends on her wealthy family.  She depends on her roommates.  Then she depends on Manic Depressive.  And then it is the Religious Brooder.  So even though the ending of The Marriage Plot is about independence and freedom and so seems un-Victorian in nature, Madeleine is your typical weak female character.  She’s nowhere need Austen’s Elizabeth, for instance.    And so is this the point?  That even though women don’t have to be married to succeed in life, at the end of the day they still desire and need to depend on men, if only to give them the freedom that will ultimately be “good” for them?  Because if that’s the point, I disliked this novel.  Immensely.

But you should read it.  And let me know…


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5 responses to “Book Review: The Marriage Plot

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  1. I read his Middlesex novel, and have mixed feelings on that story. I give him credit for crossing into tricky terrain, but as with Middlesex, guess he struggles some. I wonder… did he leave it open, such that he meant to show here is someone dependent for most of her life, suddenly standing on the cusp of independence? Whatever will she do?

  2. I couldn’t get through Middlesex, and I usually have better persistence than that. Don’t know shy.

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