Review #25: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

15 Apr

Two things make love triangles so damn appealing – they often occur in real life, and they feed our fantasies about being desirable.   There’s no irritating cliche here, where it’s obvious who the protagonist will choose, and the third party is there to solely create artificial hardship.  The Marriage Plot is about real, raw love for two people and Madeline’s frustrating inability to choose.  Life is messy, and The Marriage Plot accurately reflects the recklessness of youth, the paralysis of college graduation, and what it means to find yourself in your twenties.

Madeline is an upper middle class, Victorian romance-obsessed English major desperate for her own Mr. Darcy. For Leonard, facing a grueling life long battle with bipolar disorder, Madeline is an anchor, a life raft saving him from his illness. For Mitchell, a religious studies major struggling with what he believes, Madeline is his spiritual ideal,  his destiny.

Madeline loves Leonard, partially for his illness. She is graduating from college, with no job, no idea of to do – and she wants to be needed. So she sets up house with Leonard. Mitchell, despite her protests, is “the one who got away” – the one without the stigma of mental illness, the one who reminds her of her youth, the one who was always there, flattering her with his desire.

Possible spoilers after the jump…In any other romance, when Leonard deserts Madeline after just two months of marriage, Madeline would fall into Mitchell’s arms and live happily ever after. And Madeline does fall into Mitchell’s arms, for comfort and to test their longstanding feelings for each other. But in real life, after waiting so long to be with someone, the reality never matches the fantasy. It would feel wrong to simply leap out of your marriage into the arms of your back-up plan.

And so Madeline chooses neither. She makes the first smart, responsible decision of her life – to pursue her love of Austen at Columbia and establish a life for herself, rather than define herself by those who love her. It rang true.

The Marriage Plot has generally received neutral, or unfavorable, reviews here on Cannonball (here, here, hereherehere, etc.). I get it, and there were certainly elements I disliked. The pretentious banter about religion, philosophy, and Austen novels was irritating – but necessary, because undergrads do tend to feel as if they’re the first to discover a new idea. Madeline was not particularly likeable – although I believe she was just lost, and figuring things out, and redeemed herself in the end. The heavy handed references to Austen, and deconstruction, were a little too much for a book that sets out to dismantle the traditional love triangle.

Worth a read for the beautiful prose and unique take on the love triangle.


3 Responses to “Review #25: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides”

  1. mollyspring April 15, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    I loved this book, but I generally like pretentioniousness I guess. I loved how Eugenides weaved in the backstory for the three characters. And I loved the premise of the novel.


  1. HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review #25: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides « Cannonball Read IV - April 15, 2012

    […] Possible spoilers after the jump… Share this:ShareTwitterFacebookEmailDiggStumbleUpon Posted by HelloKatieO in 4 stars – a great book and tagged bipolar, book reviews, books, CBR4, hellokatieo, jeffrey eugenides, love triangle, reviews, the marriage plot […]

  2. Review #26: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach « Book It. - April 16, 2012

    […] few books I’ve read recently are starting to blend together, and feel a bit stale. The Marriage Plot, Freedom, A Visit from the Goon Squad and The Art of Fielding are all brilliant novels, each in […]

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