I read Middlesex earlier this year and it quickly became one of my favorite books. It's no surprise that Eugenides won the Pulitzer in 2003 for this grand narrative that weaves together the story of three generations Greek-Americans and explores, among other things, the idea of splits and divides within our identity, our desires, our families and our place in the world. Middlesex was so amazing that it took Eugenides nine years to finalize his follow-up, the much anticipated The Marriage Plot. I couldn't wait until October 11th to buy Eugenides latest, and I also couldn't shut up about it. Then the lovely and generous librarian Melissa Rochelle from Life:Merging came to my rescue and offered to mail me her ARC, which basically made my week.
The Marriage Plot has been dubbed a "romance," but I wouldn't let that classification deter you from this book if it's not your thing, because it really is so much more than that. On the surface it is a love triangle, but it also examines the confusion and angst of early 20-something college graduates; the uncovering of identities and the difficulties of deciding what direction your life will take, when you don't even know exactly what you want to get out of it. This novel, among other things, explores exactly how we get where we do, even when we aren't planning on it. As Eugenides explains, "People don't understand their lives or what happened to them; they only think they do." One of my all-time favorite bands, The Talking Heads, has a popular song that Eugenides quotes in his epigraph: And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?/And you may tell yourself,/This is not my beautiful house./And you may tell yourself,/This is not my beautiful wife. I think that epigraph really captures the ideas Eugenides takes on in The Marriage Plot.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be done with it? To be done with sex and longing? Mitchell could almost imagine pulling it off, sitting on a bridge at night with the Seine flowing by. He looked up at all the lighted windows along the river’s arc. He thought of all the people going to sleep or reading or listening to music, all the lives contained by a great city like this, and, floating up in his mind, rising just about the rooftops, he tried to feel, to vibrate among, all those million tremulous souls. He was sick of craving, of wanting, of hoping, of losing.
I should also mention the plethora of bookish details and our lead character, Madeleine, an English major who is writing her dissertation on the marriage plot; the plot device that characterized the Victorian novel, whether or not the hero and heroine would get married. Eugenides takes 19th century notions of love and compares them to our modern day counterparts. Can we have a modern-day love story that is just as romantic and unforgettable as Wuthering Heights or Daniel Deronda despite the complications of prenups, gender equality, sexual liberation, and divorce?
The novel had reached is apogee with the marriage plot and had never recovered from its disappearance. In the days when success in life had depended on marriage, and marriage had depended on money, novelists had a subject to write about. The great epics sang of war, the novel of marriage. Sexual equality, good for women, had been bad for the novel. And divorce had undone it completely.
Well, in my opinion, I don't want a retelling of the marriage plot. I want a reinvention of it, something equally as satisfying, but post-modern, which is exactly what Eugenides delivered. I adored this book. Eugenides prose is just as beautiful and detailed as it was in Middlesex, and his characters just as memorable. The plot maintains a steady pace, even as the characters develop and change. Upon finishing the book, I gave it a big hug, because it has one of those endings that you can't help not to hug it. As I mentioned in some post-reading thoughts, this book had the most satisfying ending of any other book I've read this year. I'm so tempted to share a passage from the ending (if you've read it I'll bet you know the one!), but I'm worried it would be a spoiler. So instead, I'll tell you this one is well-worth the read. You can buy The Marriage Plot at bookstores everywhere today. A big thanks to Melissa for lending me her ARC.
If you're interested in learning more, I'd like to direct you to Nymeth's review of The Marriage Plot.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011