If you majored in English or Comp Lit during the 1980s, particularly if you love Jane Austen and shudder at the memory of all of the deconstructionist crap you had to endure to meet certain course requirements, then THE MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Eugenides will feel like a pair of old shoes—broken in, comfortable, familiar. You will be thankful again that you didn’t go to grad school for Comp Lit, but also glad that you still remember enough to catch most of the references. But maybe I’m projecting too much.
Anyway, the story begins on the morning that the main character, Madeleine, is to graduate from Brown with an English degree. It begins with books. In fact, the first line is: “To start with, look at all the books.”
Of course I was hooked.
Then it begins to unwind the tale of Madeleine and Mitchell and Leonard, weaving backward and forward the way life seems to go, when you think about it.
After I finished reading this book, I was reminded of an episode from “What About Joan,” a 2001 sitcom starring Joan Cusack and Kyle Chandler. As I dimly recall (the show barely lasted more than one season, though it was HILARIOUS), in this particular episode, Joan has had an incredible night and tells one of her friends, “You won’t believe what happened to me!” The friend—I think her name was Ruby—says, “Try me. I’ll stop you if it’s anything I haven’t done before.” Then Joan proceeds to recount this Odyssean tale which includes drinking, various mishaps, and sleeping with some guy she didn’t intend to. Ruby listens intently, nodding in empathy. When Joan finally gets to the part about how she tore the guy’s flag off his bedroom wall to cover herself when she realized what she had done, Ruby interrupts and says, “Wait—what color was the flag?”
What I mean to say is this: if you were any kind of lit major, much of this tale will sound familiar, and although it can be a bit convoluted, the relationships make it engrossing, and the ending may surprise you.