My rating: (4 / 5)
The marriage plot is a literary device that was used often in fiction written in an earlier era. In Austen, for example, a woman’s entire future might turn on her choice of a husband, as well as the fate of her family. In The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides takes on the idea of the device of the marriage plot as it might occur in the modern era. Or, near modern as it were, since the novel takes place in 1982. That might be the modern era to Eugenides, but I don’t recall much of that year being as it was a part of my childhood. In fact, I was tempted to mark this book as historical fiction.
I had a harder time getting into this book than I have had with previous books by this author. I just found myself not relating to any of the characters in the beginning. Madeleine seemed like a spoiled rich girl who was rude to her parents and took her friends for granted. Okay, she didn’t just seem that way, she actually was that way, and I didn’t like her. But I wasn’t such a great person when I was college-aged either, and I was pretty curious about Mitchell, and later Leonard, who became the two male forces in her life.
Madeline is largely oblivious to the feelings of the more obviously “better” choice among the two, and is oblivious by choice to the problems of the more troublesome choice. Like many women, when trouble starts to surface, she sticks her head in the sand and holds tight to her infatuation, while the love of a friend pulses in the background of her life, even as he does his best to distance himself from her, both emotionally and geographically.
The post-college lives of the three are interesting, almost iconic for the era in which they lived. I was tickled by some of the music references, which I remembered my parents and older cousins listening to back then. The political and cultural climate seemed to be right on target, as far as I could recall, though as I said, my memories from that particular time are a little hazy due to my age.
I grew to care more and more about Madeleine as time went by and I got to know her better. It was one of those rare moments in fiction where a character becomes like a friend. I understood her motivations, I figured out why she acted the way she did toward her parents, and why she needed to “save” the man she loved. I came to understand her innocence, rather than her spoilage, was behind some of her behaviour and I came to like her. That made the second half of the book a much, much faster read than the first and much more enjoyable. If you’re having the issue of not liking or understanding Madeleine at first, I urge you to keep reading. The payoff in the lovely, fascinating, sad ending of the book is very much worth it.
I really enjoyed this book, though I dropped one star from the rating because of not having as good of a time with the very beginning. Still, it’s a very well-written literary novel with a unique take on an age-old plot.