By April Wilson, Senior Staff Writer
Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot” is not really about marriage, and while love and what it brings is a factor, this novel is really about self-discovery and the painful transition that often comes with entering adulthood.
The novel focuses on the characters of Madeleine, Mitchell and Leonard, all liberal arts graduates of Brown University in 1982. The story follows them for their last weeks of college and their first year post-graduation.
Eugenides writes in a beautiful and simple prose. He draws the reader into the minds of the three central characters, revealing their inner struggles and desires. Mitchell desires Madeline and God and struggles with the realities of both, while Leonard struggles with crippling mental illness, and Madeline and Leonard struggle with their relationship.
The male characters are well fleshed out, especially Mitchell, whose desire for Madeline is sweet and tragic at the same time. This is due to the fact that she never reciprocates those same feelings. Yet he does come to the realization ultimately that “she was his ideal, but an early conception of it, and he would get over it in time.”
However, Madeline, who begins the novel focused on school and discovering who she is and where she is going, finds herself wholly consumed by her relationship with Leonard. She loses her identity in trying to help him become well. By the end of the book it is evident that it’s a losing battle, and it is so disappointing to see her become so consumed when at this point in her life she should be discovering who she truly is and transitioning into the real adult world outside of the college classroom.
Leonard’s character is fascinating. Eugenides gave him very little narration time compared to the other two characters, but what you do glean from his voice is the torture of his mental illness and the pain it causes him. He does love Madeleine, but his illness steals that away from him. It is tragic, heart-wrenching and extremely well written literature.
The book itself made me laugh because, as a part of Madeleine’s English major, she drops names talking about Derrida’s “Of Grammatology,” Barthes, and other scholars, as well as deconstruction literary theory. These references made this future English teacher smile.
The funny thing about this book is its title. “The Marriage Plot” is misleading because it isn’t a novel about marriage. The title “The Marriage Plot” is a reference to Madeleine’s senior thesis “I Thought You’d Never Ask: Some Thoughts on the Marriage Plot,” and we never really do find out what her thoughts are.
“The Marriage Plot” is an engrossing and worthwhile read, especially for those of us who are quickly approaching the real world. Eugenides’ beautiful prose is easy to read and his characters are so engrossing and complicated that you will be unable to put the book down.