Customer Reviews: The Marriage Plot: A Novel
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on November 27, 2011
I had such high hopes for this novel. I loved Middlesex, and was an English major at an Ivy league school in the 80's - I figured it was made for me. I even had comp lit and lit criticism background, so was ready to dig in. I think the fault might be rooted in the characters - as other reviewers have said, it was hard to CARE about any of them. The beautiful heroine who can get any boy but of course falls for the one who can never make her happy, her privileged family, the depressed but interesting boyfriend. At no point did any of these characters feel real or even convincing. Of the 4000 students at my college, 3990 were more interesting than Madeline and Leonard. They felt more like overdrawn portraits of someone's imagined college roommates rather than any actual character who might have attended Brown in the 80's. The pacing was odd too - the beginning was very weighted down in the college experience with a bit of a jaunt through literary criticism - this was dry to say the least. At times, I had flashbacks to reading the semioticians, deconstructionists (did my share of Derrida and Eco) but the author's prose often felt pedantic for pedantic's sake without adding much to the plot. In fact, I felt like I was reading Kristeva (not a good thing) as the narrative become a bit like a jungle at times. Would I ever make it to the heart of darkness? Barely...after a LOT of college life, suddenly the two lovers marry, go on honeymoon and all hell breaks loose - at the same time, we watch back up boyfriend and follow his peregrinations in India while he tries to work out his own issues, all to win the girl. By the end, as Leonard spiraled into depression, I just didn't care anymore. I felt no sympathy for any of them. From his awesome sexual highs to his depressed lows, I just wanted the book to be OVER. But it just dragged on and on. This novel was a major disappointment - flawed on so many levels. I can't think of a novel whose characters have less appeal. Though I made it to the end, I felt lessened by the experience rather than uplifted, a bit spent and annoyed by all the praise which seems based much more on the expectation of a great novel than an actually great novel, or even a good one. If Middlesex hadn't come before, I doubt anyone would have raved. Judge for yourself, but this was easily the most overrated book I've read this year.
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VINE VOICEon October 26, 2011
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Part of the time I read this book in the hardcover version. Part of it I listened to on CD. The CD quality is fine. The reader has a very pleasant voice, but the book is so overwritten that it just seemed interminable on CD. I had to go back to the text so I could skip over all the excess words and keep myself half-way interested.

Eugenides last book, Middlesex, was a fun read. Sure it had its clunky spots, but it was a warm-hearted thing with a solid Midwestern sensibility. The Marriage Plot is, on the other hand, overbaked, overwritten and just plain annoying. I guess if you took Jane Austen, put her in a time machine set to 1982, forced her to get an English degree loaded with classes that featured 1980s style (i.e., narcissistic and pointless) critical theory, and then forced her to get a MFA, you'd get this, a really, really bad, pretentious Jane Austen novel set in the 1980s.

The heroine is a spoiled, little rich kid brat. Her love interests are also spoiled brats. They are Ivy League kids from hell, really, the kind you never, ever want to meet in real life (and I've met quite a few, sad to say). The Marriage Plot gets off on the wrong foot and never rights itself. The heroine has to answer the door on page one. What should take 30 or so words becomes a 1000 word treatise. Yuck. Open the door already, little rich girl. Who's on the other side of the door? Her rich obnoxious parents. Along the way to the door we are introduced to her rich obnoxious roomie. A few pages in and I've already met four people I couldn't care a rat's ass about.

The Marriage Plot is a mess. Even if you like stories about little rich girls, you'll be hitting your head every now and then because of all the overwriting. Editor please! I don't know what Eugenides was thinking when he decided this story idea was novel material worthy of nine years of work. I don't know what the publisher was thinking by publishing it without first demanding that it be chopped in half.
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VINE VOICEon October 31, 2011
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It was about eight months ago when I finished reading Richard Russo's "Bridge of Sighs" which was the first novel Russo published after winning the Pulitzer. Overall I found it to be extremely dull. Part of what I theorized was that Russo had tried way too hard to prove himself after winning the highest award of American literature.

I mention that because this is Eugenides's first novel after winning the Pulitzer for "Middlesex" and it suffers from the same problems, although it mercifully isn't as long. Overall Eugenides's attempts to create something profound and deep winds up being a dull slog, not anywhere near as good as his two previous novels.

First off, I think his entire concept that the "marriage plot" doesn't exist anymore is flawed. There are plenty of books that still deal with marriage. Even I've written one! Maybe there aren't as many waltzes and as much worrying about manners, but marriage still remains a key part of many literary novels. More than a few of those are updates of Jane Austen or other Victorian stories too. Really Jane Austen has been updated every which way by now from sequels to being told from different narrators to being set in modern day to adding zombies and sea monsters. So there's nothing groundbreaking about this story.

This story takes place in the 1980s probably for the reason that it was easier for the author to write about twentysomethings during the period when he was twentysomething as opposed to trying to write about the 2010s. Mentioning the recession of the early 80s is of course supposed to make us think of the parallels to now.

It all starts at Brown University in Rhode Island. Spoiled little rich girl Madeline is pursuing a useless degree in English, focusing on Victorian literature. You can afford to waste your life like that when Mommy and Daddy (which she still calls them despite being 22) are paying all the bills. Madeline is finally graduating. It takes Eugenides a good track of the audiobook to finally inform us that the doorbell is ringing and her parents are visiting to watch her graduate.

Weeks earlier she broke up with Leonard, a quirky poor boy from Oregon. But on the way to graduating, she finds out Leonard is in the hospital after a nervous breakdown. She finds out that he's suffering from manic depression. Madeline is the type suffering from Florence Nightingale syndrome and soon becomes essentially Leonard's nurse.

At the same time, in a largely pointless subplot, Madeline's sometimes friend Mitchell is doing like so many kids his age and going backpacking through Europe with his friend Larry. Along the way Mitchell obsesses about Madeline. Why? Because the plot calls for it. I can't see much about her that's worth obsessing about. He also becomes Born Again and says "the Jesus Prayer" about 700 times, which is really annoying in an audiobook because I wondered if the CD was skipping. He finally goes to help Mother Teresa in India.

Eventually, thanks to unwisely cutting back on his meds, Leonard convinces Madeline to marry him. Needless to say this doesn't work out so well.

To put it mildly, this book was drudgery. None of the characters are very likable. Madeline is a whiny bore. Leonard is often a bully. Mitchell is a creep who should be watching Madeline with high-powered binoculars. There's no reason I'd ever want to read about any of these people. Nor do I care who marries who or doesn't marry who. They could all fall off a cliff for all I care.

The writing is mostly fine, though there was one laughable section where Mitchell stares at a French girl's butt and thinks that it's alive and looking at him. That only made me think of Jim Carrey in "Ace Ventura" talking out his butt, which I do all the time. I should also mention for the more sensitive reader there are some pretty explicit sex scenes and bad language, Hard-R rated kind of stuff if not NC-17.

What I hate most of all though is that it uses that structure where it starts in the present and then we have to go back through what's happened before that. Often we have to hear what happens from Madeline's point of view and then Leonard's or Mitchell's. There's often gratuitous exposition, most of it not mattering at all. There's so much discussion of philosophy, literature, and religion classes that the reader should get course credit at Brown for reading it.

Really there are so many better books you could read. For twentysomethings in the '80s read "Less Than Zero" or "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh." For a novel about a woman torn between a man with a debilitating condition and another guy, read "The Dive From Clausen's Pier." Or you could read Jane Austen. Or for another book about marriage, read "Where You Belong" by Yours Truly.

That is all.
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on October 29, 2011
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Pretentious. I try to stay away from this word reviewing books, because too many of my favorites literary novels have been called that and it hurt. But "The Marriage Plot" is pretentious. And also pompous, elitist, privileged and self-important.

I just can't quite believe that an author who managed to make stories of 5 suicidal girls and a Greek hermaphrodite so compelling, could come up with something like "The Marriage Plot" and think it a worthy tale to tell. A rich, freshly graduated from Brown, English major girl waffling about reading Austen and trying to get laid/fall in love/get married? Really? No amount of references to English lit, semiotics and philosophy can elevate this story from its triteness.

I mean, truly, who can relate to this novel about rich people's mundane dilemmas? All these people do is show off their sophistication and education in front of each other (and us, readers) and going through some kind of existential crises while being utterly removed from real world problems. Someone has compared "The Marriage Plot" to "Eat, Pray, Love". Right on the money, if you ask me.
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VINE VOICEon November 13, 2011
I really liked Middlesex by Mr. Eugenides, but this much-hyped novel is a real disappointment. It is filled with lengthy, convoluted phrasing about three characters for whom I could develop no empathy. How in the world can this be considered one of the "Best Novels of 2011?
I read about 30% of it (Kindle version), then gave up. I'm sorry I bought it - it wasn't worth my time or money.
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on November 26, 2011
It was a slog getting through this. The characters are angsty and condescending. I was an English major and found the constant literary references (especially in the first half of the book) to be off-putting and unnecessary. There is so much detail about purposeless things, yet still no depth.

Until the last quarter of the book, there was nobody to root for. When I found myself pulling for Mitchell, I decided I didn't really want him to be with Madeline. In fact, like him, I didn't know what to want. Then I realized I didn't like him after all. The heroine's mom (Phyllida) was probably the only likable character, if you don't count Madeline's wallpaper.

I tried to justify the book as I read it by comparing the plot structure to that of the Victorian novels I'm familiar with. Of course, there are similarities in descriptions, plot movement, character traits. The failure here, though, is in creating powerful characters and drama that makes the reader feel something, even if the plot itself is simplistic.

I hear Middlesex is excellent, and I still plan to read it. However, I wouldn't call the writing in this book "prose" and don't think that the narrative, despite its attempt at depth and layering, was at all successful. The story is a rambling, focusless mess and just doesn't improve as the story wears on.
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on November 6, 2011
The first 91 pages are refreshing, funny, playful--a romp through semi-sendups of the pampered meritocracy taking themselves a little too seriously. It's done with a surprisingly light touch and at its best reminds me of Whit Stillman and E.M. Forster and sometimes a little bit of the J. Peterman Catalogue circa 1988--a knowing glamorization of the upper middle class seasoned with a few half-hearted criticisms. It's an addictive, guilty pleasure. I read the first 50 pages in the bookstore, realized I didn't have my wallet on me, and wondered if there wasn't some way I could get the book home without actually paying for it. But the next day when I bought the book and began the second section, I got restless. The descriptions of characters and their families and their favorite bars were suddenly wooden and dull and strangely formulaic. More J. Crew than J. Peterman. Like some unexamined fantasy of the way smart privileged kids would act. There is a noticeable change, too, in the role of the books and ideas that interest the characters as we move into the middle of the novel. Ideas begin to seem like mere accessories--flashed to catch an eye and hopefully impress. In the first section, at least, there are moments when the academic name-dropping feels like honest description, and part of the fun in that section is exploring ideas with Madeleine and Leonard and the other bright students. Not quite as exciting or convincing as playing along at the life of the mind with characters in Pnin, The Accidental, or The Last Samurai, but good enough. The Marriage Plot should have been a novella and simply ended in the middle of page 91. I would gladly reread that story and give it four stars. I was relieved to find a receipt in my back pocket this morning. I'll be returning my copy tomorrow.
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on October 30, 2011
Middlesex is one of my favorite books. That said, The Marriage Plot is one of my least favorite. The literary references were tiresome, the self-obsessed twenty-somethings tedious, and the downward spiral of the manic depressive, just that - depressing.
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on June 10, 2012
Shallow narrative with depth of research
A homage, a trope, for the Victorian romance

How can a book be both shallow and deep when you describe it? But this one was!

The narrative was the basic Victorian romance : girl rejects hero to fall for cad; romance turns bad; hero comes to the rescue ... and that is the Victorian "marriage plot". But this book was very long-winded in its delivery of the plot because it put so much into the characters. Everything you needed to know about their upbringing, their faults and foibles, their motivations and desires ... it's all there.

The first 20% of the book had an enormous overblown factor ... fine if you are an English major but the reading references were out of my league. It was a struggle.

The about-to-be college graduates are appropriately self absorbed as they sort out their futures and relationships. Much research has gone into this book (the character padding) : The heroine (beautiful, brainy, well off) has an interest in Victorian literature; the cad (impoverished, brilliant, dysfunctional family) has a mental illness; the spurned hero (steadfast, genius, whimpish) is into comparative religion. And all these topics are covered in depth, though nicely segued and never seeming to appear as research notes.

If you want a Victorian novel, read Wuthering Heights. Yes there is a twist with Madeline/Cathy marrying Leonard/Heathcliff and then being rescued by Mitchell/Edgar ... who then turns around and lets her go!!!

This book, by virtue of its name, by virtue of the plot, by virtue of Madeline's literary passions, is to meant to be a trope to the entanglements of the Victorian romances. But it is over padded. Too much to read for too little story.
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on December 14, 2011
Eugenides has written two of my all-time favorite books. Needless to say, my expectations were high for "The Marriage Plot", so I guess it should come as no surprise that I'm disappointed in this book. Firstly, the book is filled with obscure literary references, which did two things: made me feel unintelligent and made the writer seem he was trying too hard at making the book "intellectual". Also, while I was curious about what would happen to the characters, they were not nearly as interesting as the characters of Eugenides' previous works. The story itself was mildly interesting, but I found parts of the plot seemed contrived. "Virgin Suicides" and "Middlesex" were excellently written and filled with interesting characters. The plots were creative and engrossing. Not so with "The Marriage Plot". But I guess everyone has some misses in their career.
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