This was not at all what I expected – I really, really enjoyed this book (except for one longish chapter). I’m not fond of coming-of-age stories and that seems to be what Eugenides specializes in. I did like Middlesex but for some reason I didn’t think he could pull that off again.
Wrong! Not only did Eugenides “pull it off again” he seemed to do it with more ease, like he had more fun doing it. The book opens with Madeleine Hanna, a smart and beautiful young woman graduating from an east coast college. She reads a lot and Eugenides proclaims in the first page that “books are about other books” so there are many references to other books throughout The Marriage Plot.
Also graduating is her on-again/off-again boyfriend friend Leonard Bankhead and her wanna-be lover, Mitchell Grammaticus. All three are faced with the problem of what to do after college but before Eugenides can get into that story he backtracks a bit and fills the reader in on the lives of these characters to date – especially Leonard and Madeleine.
We come to find out that Leonard has a lot more problems than meet the eye. That Madeleine is not all she’s cracked up to be and that Mitchell is maybe just a wee tad too level headed – except what’s this thing he’s got about religion?
So while Leonard and Madeleine continue to have serious problems, Mitchell turns up in India with Mother Teresa’s bunch and seeking his soul.
I suppose the overarching theme is self-lessness. Which of the characters in the triangle is the most selfless is the obvious question. Easy to be fooled – is there an answer? There are lots of minor themes or motifs, women’s empowerment, the power of books and language, “varieties of religious experience,” and so forth, all intertwined but basically on one fairly satirical level. Somehow I’m reminded of Jonathan Franzen –