While I worked at B&N, I passed the end-cap displaying The Marriage Plot I don’t know how many times… it boasted four rows of the hardback, all faced out. After quickly glancing over the inside cover, I vowed to make it my next read (A Taxonomy of Barnacles took me entirely too long to finish). As a lover of eighties movies and music, the setting of college life in ’82 was most appealing. It took me just a week to finish.
Essentially the book is about a respectably raised girl, Madeleine Hanna, around the time of her college graduation. Main characters include the religiously inclined Mitchell Grammaticus and brooding/charming Leonard Bankhead; Madeleine’s parents and sister supplement the storyline. Many cool references were made to famous philosophers, authors, directors, and musicians (some of which I didn’t understand) setting the tone for a deeply thoughtful and inquisitive tale of growing up in the swinging ’60s and entering the workforce during the economic recession. I expected a more romantic novel, more anguish on which male our Madeleine would choose; instead I found a pleasantly pessimistic tale of love, lust, and enlightenment.
If you are intrigued enough to pick up a copy of The Marriage Plot, by all means, stop reading.
The first third of the book is mostly dedicated to back story and the events specifically surrounding graduation from Brown University. The rest follows the three graduates on their journeys into the real world which occurs as close as Cape Cod and as far as Calcutta. I was surprised to find the point of view change amongst Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell; I will admit that I would have been happy without Leonard’s. The aspects of biology and emphasis on understanding different religious sects at times left me lost–I hate feeling that way while reading.
Two of my favorite parts include the detailed description of Madeleine’s childhood wallpaper and the retelling of Madeleine’s and Mitchell’s sophomore Thanksgiving trip. The excerpt in which Mitchell recounts how he felt when Madeleine was in her ratty bathrobe and glasses was too genuine, feeling more like a friend was telling me rather than a fictional character.
I do know I would have thought twice about reading this particular novel had I realized Jeffrey Eugenides wrote The Virgin Suicides (I struggled through twenty pages of that book on a visit to my sister’s and thought it wiser to put it back on her bookshelf than continue reading)(and I know, how could I have worked at a bookstore and not known the author of TVS–shameful). At the end of the book, I literally exclaimed, “WHAT?!” and had to reread the last page to give myself some finality.
Oddly enough, this book was very interesting to read at this point in time. Some situations I found paralleling my own life, but thankfully, did not have the same results. If you are looking for a conventional read, light on content and high in frivolity, this is not the book for you. The Marriage Plot brings to the surface the darkness of intense love/intense pain and the overwhelming clarity in finally understanding one’s path in life.