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‘Marriage Plot’ Not A 2011 Best Book. Get Serious.

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I’ll start with this: I luvvv (with 7 v’s) Jeffrey Eugenides.

Sure, we can start with the home town writer thang–that the Virgin Suicides looked eerily constructed on a crazy Detroit suburban reality does appeal in a sick sense. And Middlesex was the next street over from where I grew up (only those in the know got the double entendre. we are that cool, people.)

He’s an amazing writer. He’s a talent. His view is out there. He crafts a plot line which can be as narrow as a group of sisters tantalizing the high school boys over months on one square block and as far reaching as a Greek tale moving across generations, gender and geography. This guy is good, he shows range.

But do not (do not!) get suckered into the best of lists and buy this one.
This is not one of the best books of the year. Is not.
Not with a fox. in a box. in a house. with a mouse. Nope.

See, my intention is to not even dissuade you from reading this. I don’t even think that is my job. It’s not awful. It’s worse than that, it’s mediocre. It doesn’t offend really. I’m just going to release the air out of this hype balloon. Like Franzen’s Freedom, we waited a long time for Jeffrey’s reprise….so I don’t want to deprive you. But where Franzen delighted us and reminded us why we have missed him….this books makes you question if the magic is gone?

Three college students at Brown. Madeline, a NJ suburban gurl and Victorian novel intellectual falls in love with the alluring but bi-polar Leonard. Completing the love triangle is the loyal Mitchell, who is a dear friend of Maddie’s but missed his chance sophomore year when he didn’t jump Maddie at Thanksgiving. He leaves after graduation to travel the world and pursue his quest for full spirituality, while Maddie marries Leonard and makes a mess of her life. Mitchell’s letter back to her (DON”T DO IT MADDIE, DON”T MARRY HIM!) conveniently never reaches her.

At which point I find myself saying: god, am I that old? Is early twenties love that interesting? Didn’t this very story happen in 1989 at, say, a campus in Virginia? Didn’t we all miss that ridiculously nice and awesome potential future boyfriend/girlfriend while we made out with the bad apple that was clearly not a wise choice? (Mom: don’t answer that with some crazy story about Jeff D. I hear you. But don’t use this as your blog participation opportunity. Really.)

Okay, maybe the marriage part didn’t happen. But seriously, didn’t every one of us endure this (MB: charlie? JW: Ted? and JuFor and Nad, I am sorry to say I can’t even dig up the names of those boys you nearly married. Sheez, super close call.)

Here’s my point: the quality of the writing is far, far better than the quality of the story.

And so–I say reject this as a best book of 2011.

Do this instead: call an old college friend and tell twenty minutes of stories about the kook you fell in love with until the tears roll down your face at the insanity of your 20 something mind. Better use of time.

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cynthia #

    I just finished it today. I actually had to force myself to read it. I kept hoping it would get better but it was such a snooze. So disappointing to have waited for this for so long after “Middlesex.” And I’ve had it with mainstream “Best Books of…”

    December 7, 2011
    • Agree! So what is your best book of 2011? About to crowdsource the list–don’t you think?

      December 7, 2011
      • Cynthia #

        I read many books but not a lot that I loved. I couldn’t understand how “The Finkler Question” won the Booker. I love Toibin but wasn’t crazy about “The Empty Family.”

        Two of my favorites were non-fiction. “The Hare with Amber Eyes” (I hope that was this year). And definitely “(The)Destiny of the Republic.” I’ve recommended them to everyone.

        Last but certainly not least I have to plug my friend Bob Smith’s “Remembrance of Things I Forgot.” It’s wonderful. Sad, happy, and thought provoking. And the cover is marvelous.

        I haven’t finished Hollinghurst’s “The Stranger’s Child” but I have high hopes for it as I did for Eugenides. Sigh.

        December 9, 2011
  2. Interesting – the plot as you describe it in your post, reminds me of the story of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. Charles decides to delay asking Camilla to marry and departs on a long tour of duty. Meanwhile she marries Andrew Parker-Bowles for strategic and social reasons, I suppose. What follows is the heartbreak of Diana and the collapse of 2 marriages. Eventually Charles and Camilla marry and live happily ever after, almost oblivious to the destruction in the wake.

    December 7, 2011
    • Interesting comparison…this one doesn’t really have a happily ever after. It’s even more awkward.

      December 7, 2011
  3. I actually really liked this book. It hasn’t got the sexy shock value of Middlesex, but I thought the writing style was brilliant. Could be that I connected with the time period, but I loved the characters.

    Yes there are quite a few esoteric reference that threaten to bog down the plot, but overall, I thought it was a great story.

    December 8, 2011
    • Sorry for my delay. I’m glad to hear you liked it. Obviously lots of folks did…it ended up on so many ‘best of lists’. I just luvved Middlesex so much, expectations I guess were too high…

      January 14, 2012
  4. Reading it now and enjoying it… but for exactly why you’ve said: “crafts a plot line which can be as narrow as a group of sisters tantalizing the high school boys over months on one square block and as far reaching as a Greek tale moving across generations, gender and geography. This guy is good, he shows range.” Now that’s good writing!

    The jury’s still out on Marriage Plot, but thus far not a patch on Freedom or Goon Squad for me.

    December 11, 2011
    • I wasn’t sure exactly what you meant–was hoping you mean it was a long way from being as good as Goon Squad and Freedom. This book felt second tier to those titles. Love to see you share what you are reading now!

      January 14, 2012

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