Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Quickly making the Top Ten Books of 2011 lists (Publisher’s Weekly and Amazon, so far) Eugenides’ latest is clearly a great read. But is it a great book? That I’m not sure of.
I have to say that The Virgin Suicides is one of my all time favorite books, so my expectations are insanely high, so grain of salt- hell, pillar of salt.
The college and post-college experiences of Brown students Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell rang true, and parts were heartbreakingly real, but I never felt fully absorbed in the story, and the lyricism that defined Virgin Suicides was not present.
What hit me hardest with this book was the heart-panging recognition of first love, all night conversations about philosophy or semantics or religion, how devastatingly accurately Eugenides portrayed those (ludicrous in retrospect) days when it seemed like ideas and ethics and books mattered at all- when friendships and relationships could be broken by reactions to Barthes or Derrida, when it seemed normal and natural for conversation to revolve around theory. That broke my heart, the dreadful mirror he held up to the college experience, but he never took it to the next inevitable point- when all of these people compromise (as they will have to)- when Madeleine finds there are no jobs for Victorianists, when Mitchell realizes that unless he goes Unibomber style, he will be one of the great hypocrites of the earth, and when Leonard will (again, seemingly inevitably) commit suicide.
I might sound bitter.
Ok, this book fucked with me.
But, for all that- the book stayed firmly in lucky, intelligent, mostly wealthy white people territory, and while that is fine, and no necessary detriment to great literature (see, Salinger, Updike, WHARTON, for god’s sake), the characters never bled for me or made me weep.
It was a great read. I don’t think it was a great book.

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