I absolutely adored both the Virgin Suicide and Middlesex, and was excited to see that Eugenides had published anew. However, The Marriage Plot is bad in so many ways that I'm shocked. It is simultaneously pretentious and vapid (name-dropping and surface-level discussions of literary theory and spiritual philosophies), and the story is terribly juvenile. It is a story of pedestrian heartbreak, like most failed college relationships, and the characters are so totally plausible that they are boring, generic. I do not care about these people, or their feelings for one another, or their fates. I am also extremely put off by the exclusivity of the hardly-fictionalized, entirely-privileged world of Brown University. This feels like a poorly-executed, love-lorn, man-child's autobiography of Young Love's Dull Persistence.
The narrator did the best he could with the material at hand, but no matter how great an actor/reader you are, it's nearly impossible to make some of this writing come off as natural, or talented. For instance, Eugenides actually uses "shot his load" and "curd of evidence," in all seriousness, in the same sentence, to describe a college boy's frustrated masturbatory experiences. A lot of this novel is just plain graceless.
Even in moments when I could technically relate to the characters in The Interestings, I found myself annoyed and resistant to do so. While I appreciate the idea of a novel that follows the humdrum life of children assumed to become wildly successful in the arts, it's way too self-conscious, and the tone persists in being teenage precocious even after the characters become adults.
It almost feels like YA fiction, with a few sex scenes (which were actually well-written, I have to give credit where credit is due). I am the demographic who ought to relate to this novel and I found it far too self-conscious. I imagine Wolitzer's cache of cultural and literary references to be like a word bank she lifts from with clockwork regularity: I, too, read and related to The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds during my high school years, but the mention of it here felt forced, a nonsequiter.
I liked the reader's pace, it felt natural and excitable. Too bad the novel itself didn't match Jen Tullock's enthusiasm
The first half of this book was incredible, but the second half struggled to measure up. The novel as a whole is wonderful and worth the time. The narration is great, too. I just sort of wish the characters had never grown into adults.
I've read a lot of John Irving, but most of it was years ago. I'm not sure if my tastes have changed or if this was a particularly lackluster novel for him, but I actually quit listening with only a few hours left to go, because I was so disinterested in the characters and the story, itself.
I am typically bored by literature that is too overtly influenced by the Christian faith/the Bible. Somehow, Flannery O'Connor has escaped such classification for me, and I am riveted by her, absolutely stunned: every time I read her, it feels like the first time I have encountered the idea of God. I liked Wise Blood, but The Violent Bear it Away is in a league of its own. This novel is so dark, and so unflinchingly intelligent and so surprising, and I wished it were 20 hours long instead of six. In fact, I listened to several chapters several times, not because they were difficult to follow, but because I was so amazed by her craft and its unfolding. It will be a difficult novel to follow-up.
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