Full disclaimer: Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex is in my top five all-time favorite books. I love it so much that I think any other book he writes will never be able to live up to it.
That being said, I knew I had to read The Marriage Plot when I heard it was coming out. I asked for it for Christmas–I actually just told my mother to tell an aunt to buy it for me–and read most of it on a long plane ride a few weeks later. While I really liked it, it was hard not to compare it to Middlesex.
The Marriage Plot centers on Madeleine, an English major and recent graduate from Brown University. The book, set in the early 1980’s, follows her as she leaves school and deals with her relationships with two men: Leonard, her bipolar lover, and Mitchell, her geeky best friend. The admittedly simple plot is interwoven by near constant literary references, which play a huge role in shaping both the narratives and the characters’ decisions.
It’s one of those books that’s sort of difficult to describe, simply because it focuses more on relationships than plot. It takes a skillful author to pull this off, but Eugenides succeeds. His characters are incredibly human–deeply flawed, with moments of recognizable weakness–and very realistic. I actually found them all pretty unlikeable at one point or another, which didn’t necessarily make for a pleasant reading experience, but I appreciated what Eugenides was trying to do.
For the most part, I liked the literary references. As a fellow English major, I caught a lot of them, but there were still a ton that I didn’t understand. I’d imagine this might be frustrating for someone who isn’t well-versed in literary theory and Victorian British literature–at some points, the references seemed superfluous and were frustratingly oblique.
Overall, though I’d recommend it. It’s a fairly difficult reading experience (in terms of emotional discomfort) but it has a lasting power. Eugenides is such a good writer, and this story is completely compelling.