If the literary world needed to wait nine years after Middlesex to read another Jeffrey Eugenides stroke of genius, The Marriage Plot is certainly worth it. The book follows Madeleine Hanna, Mitchell Grammaticus, and Leonard Bankhead, who all left for an undergraduate degree at Brown University in the 1980s. Madeleine, a Victorian literary nut, declares a personal "no men" rule, while heavily researching love, relationships, and marriage circa Jane Austen for her senior thesis. Mitchell, of course, falls in love with Madeleine and explores religion while trying to win her over. But Mitchell is no competition for Leonard, an up-and-coming scientist, who attempts to woo Madeleine over the microscopes in the Chem lab. While the initial setting could easily describe a grocery store chicklit paperback, Eugenides transforms the cliche "love triangle" into a modern, biting, and fresh new look at brain vs. heart. From beginning to end, The Marriage Plot delivers new ideas about everything from feminism to parental relationships to the big post-graduation question mark of "What do I do now?"
Structure: 5 out of 5 Stars
As per Eugenides style, the author introduces central events early on, giving the reader a false confidence in predictions for future chapters. The plot, of course, unravels and those predictions are turned upside down, leaving the reader pleasantly surprised and eager for more. The author introduces main characters, then jumps to flashbacks and unfolds each character's history, as well as the stories of each mother, father, sister, and friend. Then the novel continues with Madeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard. By the time the reader closes the book on page 406, she/he will likely feel like they have invested in a satisfying history lesson rather than a fictional tale. Chapters vary from short to long, and the book is broken into five main sections. The plot comes full circle multiple times and touches on the "marriage plot" idea from every angle. Great structure. Great plot. Great book.
Character: 5 out of 5 stars
Not a single complaint. Madeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard are well-constructed, experience severe transformations, and finish the novel with dignity. No holes are left unfilled or any nagging questions left unanswered. While the story doesn't leave the reader unfulfilled, it certainly provides a desire for more. Both the plot and characters end with endless possibilities for sequels, though, on its own, the book stands well.
Voice: 5 out of 5 stars
The three narrators are easily distinguishable by character traits, mannerisms, and personalities within the first line each one speaks. Madeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard share a strong intellectual brain and yet differ greatly in their individual journeys. Each character voice and story is incredibly compelling. The reader can be knee-deep in Leonard's mind battle while he runs through the streets of Cape Cod, and then in just a paragraph, quickly get sucked into Mitchell's inner anguish over Mother Teresa from his hotel in India.
The book, overall, is witty, sarcastic, and endearing. Eugenides examines that ultimate idea of "the marriage plot" in many specific and general ways. I would highly recommend this novel to all readers, YA and otherwise. The Marriage Plot was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in October 2011 and shouldn't be missed!