I don’t know why I liked this one, but I did. I guess it’s because it had some interesting characters, good descriptions of college life in the 80’s and a unique ending.
This is a novel that was published in 2011 that follows three college friends, Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell after they graduate from Brown in 1982.
At first blush this appears to be a typical coming of age story that involves a beautiful girl in a love triangle with two men. As I said, each of the characters is interesting because they are dealing with a big life issue: Leonard with depression, Mitchell is on a zealous religious pursuit and Madeleine is hopelessly in love with Leonard.
The best parts of this book to me were Eugenides descriptions of college life in the 1980’s. (By the way, yes, I can relate.) He talks about having to drink a “cleansing” beer to restart after a night of partying and that “timeless”part of the night when it feels necessary to play “I heard it through the Grapevine.”
The story is supposed to be about “the marriage plot” although the book never really gets to what that is. At one point Mitchell and Madeleine are discussing the different points to marry. They define three different phases of marriage. Phase I’s get married right after college, Phase II’s wait a few years and Phase III’s wait to fully establish their career. Is this the marriage plot?
The love triangle progresses when Mitchell leaves the country after college on his religious pursuit but while gone continues to pine away for Madeleine. While out tipsy on some mind altering substance he sends her a letter begging her NOT to marry Leonard, he is not the right man for her. She should not become a “Phase I”.
However, it’s too late, Madeleine and Leonard already have married. Unfortunately for them, they marry when Leonard is mentally healthy but while honeymooning in Europe he succombs to a fit of mania and is re-hospitalized for his maniac depression. Madeleine faithfully stands by him even though he eventually leaves her and runs away to Oregon. A creepy period ensues when Madeleine returns to her parents and then Mitchell comes back to the country and spends the summer with Madeleine at her parents house creeping on her during their separation.
At the end of the book Mitchell and Madeleine again get into a discussion about marriage. Is this the marriage plot?
Mitchell asks Madeleine if she would be interested in reading a book about a woman who married the wrong guy but then suddenly the right guy comes back to her. In a fit of love for her Mr. Right decides NOT to break up the marriage to Mr. Wrong. Mr. Right decides the woman has more important things to do with her life than be married. Mr. Right still loves her but decides not to propose after all. He asks her: is there a book that ends like that?
Madeleine says, no she doesn’t think there is a book that ends like that. Yet Mitchell presses on, But do you think that would be GOOD? As an ending?
And finally the book the book ends with Madeleine replying with a single word.
I know, right? The Marriage Plot? Could it really be just NOT to get married? Okay book clubbers: DISCUSS.