It’s the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.
As Madeleine tries to understand why “it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in 18th-century France,” real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes.
Leonard Bankhead—charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy—suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old “friend” Mitchell Grammaticus—who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange—resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.
Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology Laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.
Are the great love stories of the 19th century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.
©2011 Jeffrey Eugenides (P)2011 Macmillan Audio
“There are serious pleasures here for people who love to read.” (Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly)
“Wry, engaging and beautifully constructed.” (William Deresiewicz, The New York Times Book Review)
“[The Marriage Plot] is sly, fun entertainment, a confection for English majors and book lovers . . . Mr. Eugenides brings the period into bright detail—the brands of beer, the music, the affectations—and his send-ups of the pretensions of chic undergraduate subcultures are hilarious and charmingly rendered . . . [His] most mature and accomplished book so far” (Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal)
I have edited 38 national best sellers and had a writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
This is the first Eugenides novel I've "read," and I liked it so much, I've already got Middlesex in my cart. Eugenides has developed three interesting main characters, in particular one who struggles with bipolar disorder. All the protagonists are likable, and the characterization is consistent. The author evokes a wide range of emotions in the readers.
As for the narrator, well, he wasn't so great. He mispronounced a couple of words, and he didn't have a repertoire of voices--I considered him to be a reader, not an actor.
Say something about yourself!
I don't know how honest a review this is since I deleted The Marriage Plot about a third of the way through, listening only to the first part of the book in which our heroine Madeleine attends Brown University. It seemed to me that Eugenides had only one rather bombastic, naive and pompous character split into many names and voices populating part 1. The entire section felt like an illustration of a point he really wanted to make and was more lecture discussion than story.
Reader David Pittu engaged his formidable talent with voices to define the many characters, but his choice to use acting technique rather than storytelling technique only reinforced Eugenides lack of story.
While I enjoy meditation, the illustration of an idea and even occasional pontification in my fiction, The Marriage Plot was just too thin.
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.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story but once was enough. The main characters experiences as a young female english student were enlightening. I could see myself reviewing to grab a few intriguing mentions of books I'd never read. I have no reason to revisit the story.
The main characters parents created many memorable moments that were strangely familiar and made me laugh aloud in the car while listening a long ride to New Hampshire.
The narration good but a bit slow for my taste. In fact, the narrator's energy improved in the 3-4 chapter. I don't know if that was intentionally reflecting the mood of the story, or if he connected with the characters later in the story.
Living and learning from the literary elite.
I suppose I'll give Middlesex a lesson now that I've had a taste of Jeffrey Eugenides.
I was a high school history teacher and a physician assistant-retired.
The plot was boring, the characters moody, self-indulged, and tedious. They labored from one place to another without any real purpose. I persisted to listen to the entire story hoping that the end would reward my persistence, but I ended up unfulfilled. Also, I wanted to give Eugenides the benefit of the doubt because of his last, great novel,
Pittu did a great job of differentiating voices, and does a particularly fine job with the women.
It does not need a follow-up book because the characters are one-dimensional and not likable or interesting. The Plot was too long as it stands.
(also posted on Amazon.com)
I intended to love this book, having waited for it since Middlesex. I am disappointed. I felt like I was reading Franzen's Corrections, which was okay, but I didn't need to read it again; nor did I finish Freedom by Franzen for the same reason. I am disappointed because I had put great stock in JE, and I was sure this next book, so long in coming would be a masterpiece.
What has happened to popular literature? Why is it sufficient to trot out the lives of characters, their intersections and their problems, without the framework of plot -- there is no "desire" here. There is no conflict, and there is no passion.
I am always glad to learn new things. So after the MP I know some little something about yeast cells. I know a little more about manic/depression and I know some things about India which I might not have come to otherwise know.
The parents in this story were cut from the same dough as many others. In this book, and those like it, 20somethings from the 1980s (who would be 50 somethings now) are vapid but brilliant, healthy but unable to follow their own common sense, and they aren't even having a great time with sex. Sex is so tortuous in this book, that it frequently reads like the Indian excrement scene, embarrassing and tragic.
I suppose, as one reviewer put it, if I were of that class, I could identify with it better. I am much older than those characters were in this telling, but I don't lack my own memories from my 20s. We had **fun**. We suffered deeply, we played hard, we felt things, we regretted, we rejoiced. These people don't even get a kick from their privileged education and the exposure to the subjects they chose to study.
Poor Mitchell couldn't measure up to his own standards for being "good." Leo's situation is hopeless. I've known some M/Ds in my life. They function most of the time, they hold jobs and have families, go to school and prevail much of the time -- especially those with two shrinks and constant medication monitoring. This boy, Leonard, was hung out to dry. Maddy took on his illness and became a depressive too. There was nothing to root for in any of them.
So, I am disappointed on many levels. I expected more from the writer of Middlesex. I expected more from the parade of characters, not all of whom were cardboard cut-outs, and I expected some kind of mystery or journey or decision to be made by the hero -- but frankly, I am not sure who the hero/protagonist was.
The point of view changes were very effective, because not one of those characters could have supported the whole book. I was looking for a transition, a convergence of the three into one (metaphorically), but none came.
Maddy gets out of her situation with Leonard. Mitchell must accept her passive rejection and Leo is out running in the woods. While this may represent reality, who gives a s**t?
I'm a big fan of Jeffrey Eugenides, so I was delighted to see The Marriage Plot available on Audible, and couldn't wait to download it. Unfortunately, and much to my sad surprise, I never really made a real connection with any of the main characters. I found most of the characters distinctly unpleasant, so it became more and more difficult to understand why they all were falling in love with each other, or even why any of them were friends. All of the characters' attitudes of "better than" -- culturally, intellectually, romantically, spiritually -- were too thick for me to feel anything like compassion for them. They weren't the three dimensional, complicated characters I'm used to meeting in Eugenides books.
Narrative makes the world go round.
Like one of the 19th Brit masterpieces centered on the marriage plot, you can get lost in this listen just through the characters, story and gentle social comedy of manners; however, instead of examining an ISSUE through its plot, it's a bit Orlando-like in examining the state of narrative fiction (post-post modern in disguise?).
Though set in the 1980s, it seems really to be about narrative fiction today, much like the traditional masterpiece referents were often written slightly out of the timeframe they address. I rated it overall as a only 4 star listen because I did not think the narrator the best voice for all three major characters, and at my age, narrative fiction (even at its best) about 20th century 20- something Ivy Leaguers, WASP and otherwise, is not my first choice of subject matter.
Long live the novel, and the marriage plot, however they emerge in western postindustrial, post modern society. Both are worth the journey in this listen.
One of my all time favorite books is Middlesex and I love Virgin suicides, so I could hardly wait to read Marriage Plot. Was very disappointed. Eugenides rambled on about so many things and none of the characters were very appealing.
A school administrator and avid reader and listener of books. At least an hour of every day is spent in the car, and that's where the bulk of my listening is done. I tend to listen to books on "faster" mode so I can get through more books!
It's book was such a disappointment. I stuck with it all the way through, thinking that surely, the author of "Middlesex" would pull through with a compelling and fascinating tale. Not so. The Marriage Plot is overwritten, and goes into far too much detail on stories that don't advance the plot. Eugenides did not create characters that you care about. When the book is finished you wish you could get those hours of your life back.
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