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Books: The Marriage Plot

January 16, 2012

I anticipated reading The Marriage Plot–the much lauded new release from Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides–more than I have any book in recent memory. Recent college grads (like me) who love reading (like me) find themselves involved in a sort of love triangle (er…) that recalls the ostensibly comic plots of Austen & co., while the characters struggle outwardly and inwardly to find their places in the world. What’s not to love here? Unfortunately, quite a bit.

Eugenides is brilliant at exposing the inner universes of his characters–placing issues of economic status, love, art, religion, and the question of how to spend a life inside the view of recent college grads in a way that seems both authentic and easy. But don’t believe The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani when he says “No one’s more adept at channeling teenage angst…not even Salinger.” Though I’ve not read Eugenides’ other work, such a claim cannot be made of this book, which more often than not introduces a set of circumstances and works backwards, filling the reader in with plot details; while such a move initially creates suspense, the repeated need for the reader to play catch up begins to read as a dry report of events. Then he did this. This is how that. Angst itself struggles to be felt.

The most exciting part of the book is the very beginning, which unfolds in the moment. A beautiful but bookish heroine wakes up massively hung-over with her parents banging on the door to her apartment. She is a kind of fascinating girl, with quirky parents and an unexplained issue with a class-mate who dresses like an old man. Between her literary interest, her lack of a future plan in the face of the recession of the 80s, and her recently collapsed relationship, it was nearly impossible for me, a 25 year-old master’s student (or anyone who at one point was) to not relate. Shortly after we discover all this out for ourselves, however, Eugenides begins to explain everything away. The characters lose their vitality, and our connections to them go with it. Worth a read, if it seems like your thing.

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