The Marriage Plot: A Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides
Short Review: An dark overly dramatic story, mediocre reader and no one to root for.
Long Review: I wanted to really like this book. I loved Eugenides’s Middlesex, but this story just fell flat for me. My father always taught me that a key to good storytelling was that you had to have someone to root for. If you don’t care what happens to any of the characters, then why stick around?
Our three rotating protagonists are the three sides of a classic lovers triangle. As befits the title, there is a looming question of who gets the girl – in this case we join our story just before graduation at Brown University in the early 1980s. The paths of the lives of Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell tangle together and around each other. We spend a lot of time with each of them as they try to find their way. This is a fairly dark book, and perhaps this review is more dour for my preference at the moment for stories in which less time is spent dwelling on peoples’ sad struggles. I do feel that Eugenides did an excellent job portraying manic depression and its impact on both the afflicted and those around them.
Some of what Eugenides was trying to do was made more clear for me during the interview included at the end of the book. This is a very ‘literary’ book, or at least was written in that tradition. What happens to the classic marriage plot of Victorian literature in a post-feminist world?
My favorite thing about the book was the way Eugenides retold the same events from more than one point of view – highlighting the misunderstandings and internal landscapes on all sides. I also enjoyed the writing itself – the description, the dialog, and the weaving of the timeline. It was just the story itself that left me cold – I didn’t care about these people. I didn’t identify with them.
The reader didn’t help. While he did have distinctive voices for each of the characters, I especially found the women’s voices to be annoying. I am struggling to find the right words to describe why – but the voice he created for Madeleine made her sound first whiny, then breathy and fake to my ear. While I might have liked this audio book slightly better with another reader, I just don’t think this was a good fit for me overall. Your mileage may vary.