Several years ago I read the Pulitzer Prize winning book Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. It was terrific. I should have dashed to my computer to order Eugenides’ first novel called The Virgin Suicides, but I didn’t. I did tell myself if Eugenides ever wrote another novel, I would be quick about getting a copy of it, and I was. Eugenides’ third novel is called The Marriage Plot, and despite the continuous bedroom scenes in it, it was a very worthwhile read. Naomi Schaefer Riley, a former Wall Street Journal writer and editor, wrote a great review of it, which can be found at http://www.booksandculture.com. I particularly liked the character Mitchell Grammaticus, who is a religious studies student at Brown University. Eugenides does not make this character out to be a clown or simpleton, but a bright young man who wants to understand himself and the young woman he loves from a distance; he also seriously asks the great questions of life: who am I? why am I here?, etc. He is no saint, but he defiinitely wants to learn about deeper things than beer,sex, and getting a high paying job out of college. As Ms Riley notes in her review, “the reader is … startled to find a fashionable American writer taking faith so seriously in a novel.” I agree, it was a refreshing surprise, and it is Eugenides telling of Mitchell’s story that, for me, moves the book from simply another predictable coming of age novel to a novel that has something to say.
The Marriage Plot is clever, ironic, thoughtful, funny and sad, with an ending that is not going to satisfy the romantics in the house. One hook in the story for me was that author Jane Austen’s books play an integral part in Eugenides’ tale. Anyone who has read Austen’s work knows that making a ‘good marriage’ was the sub-plot if not the main plot in Austen’s novels. But we learn in “The Marriage Plot,” which primarily takes place in the early 1980s on the campus of Brown University, that there is no longer a viable way to write about love or a ‘good marriage’ because the conventions and expectations that were associated with such things in days past, including Austen’s era, are not in place in society any longer.
Skillfully and delightfully, while protesting their very existence through the characters in his book, Eugenides shows us that even in the 1980’s, expectations and conventions for marriage were present and accounted for. Eugenides is a wonderful writer. His ability to bring the reader along on the delicious, thoughtful twists and turns of “The Marriage Plot” makes me glad to be a reader in this day and age. And now I think I will have to order The Virgin Suicides