Arts & Events

Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot worth taking time for

The author's latest novel, focused on modern college students, is in the running for a prestigious book award.

While Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot was published in October, the novel is still causing stir in the literary world.  It was recently nominated for the National Book Critics Circle’s fiction award, along with two other works.

The storyline of Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot is an especially intriguing and relatable one for its college culture. Set in Brown University and East Coast areas around it, Eugenides takes his readers through a journey of the strange politics of the social life at college and the difficulties of planning a future after college.

The main character, Madeline Hanna, is a student at Brown who studies Victorian period literature and authors. Various descriptions of authors such as Jane Austen or George Eliot are sprinkled through out the novel, as well as brief ponderings of their works as presented by Madeline.

While a great deal of the conflict of the novel is caused by conflicts in love, the main issue is growing up, much like Eugenides’s other novels. Madeline, after graduating from Brown, is faced with leaving the college bubble and finding a way to incorporate what she loves into where she works. This concept is an especially relatable one for every college student.

At times, Madeline can be a difficult character to enjoy because she consistently situates herself as the victim of the life she is given. The majority of the novel is her coming to terms with reality. Although Madeline as a character may prove to be nearly unlikeable, Eugenides’s writing style basically negates her personality and encourages further reading.

Aside from Madeline, there is Leonard Bankhead, the leading man in Madeline’s love life, who is manic, intelligent and charming when he chooses. The latter part of the novel focuses on Madeline and Leonard’s relationship with one another as well as Leonard’s mental illness.

Another key character in the novel is Mitchell, a friend of Madeline’s who goes on his own personal journey as a Religious Studies major with a focus on Christian mysticism. Madeline and Mitchell throughout the novel carry a complicated relationship that may frustrate the reader. However, Mitchell’s journey is a unique one that goes as far as India.

None of the characters Eugenides created are explicitly good or bad. None of them are entirely likeable. Like the people encountered in college, they are on the surface normal and basic people, but behind that they are a complex series of events defining the habits of a person trying to get by.

The Marriage Plot is a very character-driven novel and switches between the narratives of Mitchell, Madeline and Leonard. Eugenides is very adept at creating distinct voices amongst the characters yet still maintaining his appealing descriptive writing style.

The novel itself feels comfortable. It travels gently and takes readers through the minds of the different characters, and explores the thoughts and insecurities that are extremely relatable.

The coming-of-age tale remains ever alive with each of Eugenides’s novels, perhaps especially so in The Marriage Plot. Although the plot isn’t as dramatic or attention grabbing as The Virgin Suicides or Middlesex, his other works, it presents a more common and important coming-of-age story that reaches easily into many hearts and minds.