Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Modern Marriage Plot

College wasn’t like the real world. In the real world people dropped names based on their renown. In college, people dropped names based on their obscurity.

That sums up my college years. I graduated a year after the characters in this book. Instead of dropping the names of obscure authors as they do (probably my only criticism of the book), we were citing bands like Protex and The Beat. To further that, Jeffrey Eugenides doesn’t mention much music, but when he does it’s obscure: there was a guy wearing a Plasmatics T-shirt.

The marriage plot was the framework for the novels of Jane Austen and writers of her time. In most cases it would involve a very smart woman, usually too smart for most men, a love interest who maybe all wrong for the character although he/she is in love with that person, madness, the search for spirituality and some family secret that changes a person(s).

Eugenides hits the mark on his modern Marriage Plot. In this case the heroine is actually Mitchell. He’s the one with the most sense, whose heart is longing for Madeleine. She of course is in love with Leonard, the womanizing member of her semiotics class. Leonard has a past that haunts him. Jane would be proud.

The Marriage Plot is a joy as it’s so well written. I don’t know first hand what it’s like to deal with a manic-depressive person but Eugenides uses language that put me in the head and heart of his character.

The solitude was extreme because it wasn’t physical. It was extreme because you felt it while in the company of the person you loved. It was extreme because it was in your head, that most solitary of places.

After reading that I felt a sense of isolation and the struggle of swimming against the tide. The author gets you there. Authors of most of the current fiction I have been reading do not take the time to develop their characters. Plots are lacking and novels are more situation driven. I was thrilled that this book did not go there.

As much as I wanted to shake some sense into Madeleine at times, Leonard is not a complete bad guy. In an interview with Leonard Lopate, Eugenides said originally Leonard Bankhead was the bad boy and then he started sympathizing with him.

It’s amazing to me how well Eugenides got the early 80’s college experience so right. There is a lot of searching and a lot of questioning. For me there was a lot more music, good friends and trips off campus also.

As in a good marriage plot, his characters flirt, fall in love, are in denial and then there’s a revelation. That’s why I liked them so much.

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