The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
406 pages
Published by Picador, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: This one is absolutely worth a second (or third) read.

Reviewed by Indiana

This story asks whether or not the great love stories of the 19th century are just completely disassociated from modern day readers. With divorce rates soaring, feminist ideas taking over, and sexual freedom becoming the norm, is the classic “marriage plot” formula work?

Eugenides takes readers on a romantic journey with Madeleine Hanna, a dutiful English major who focuses on Victorian era works, Mitchell Grammaticus, a religious studies major with plans to explore the world, and Leonard Bankhead, a brilliant student struggling with severe mental illnesses.

There is the love triangle, of course. But it’s more about the three of them trying to find their way through early adulthood. Madeleine struggles with where love fits in her life: should that be the center? Or should she focus on her studies and getting published? Mitchell is struggling with finding his faith and whether or not he should even be as obsessed with religion as he is.

Leonard is trying to manage his mental illness as best he can, going back and forth between a brilliant mania and a crippling depression.

Their storylines weave back and forth and at every intersection, Eugenides asks “what does the modern love story look like?”

This is the second time I read this book. The first time I read it was during my sophomore year of college and I was taking a lit theory course at the time which perfectly tied into the book. It was a surreal experience. This time around was just as surreal in a way, because it deals with the tough decisions the characters have to start making right out of college.

I also found it a lot funnier on the second read. It had me chuckling out loud with lines like: “In Madeleine’s face was a stupidity Mitchell had never seen before. It was the stupidity of all normal people. It was the stupidity of the fortunate and the beautiful, of everybody who got what they wanted in life and so remained unremarkable.” and “Some people majored in English to prepare for law school. Others became journalists. The smartest guy in the honors program, Adam Vogel, a child of academics, was planning on getting a Ph.D. and becoming an academic himself. That left a large contingent of people majoring in English by default. Because they weren’t left-brained enough for science, because history was too try, philosophy too difficult, geology too petroleum-oriented, and math too mathematical – because they weren’t musical, artistic, financially motivated, or really all that smart, these people were pursuing university degrees doing something no different from what they’d done in first grade: reading stories. English was what people who didn’t know what to major in majored in.”

Some people many disagree, but this is by far my favorite Eugenides book. Although he might not come to a complete conclusion on whether or not the great love stories are dead, it’s a conclusion that feels modern and genuine in its ambiguity.

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