Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Marriage Plot

Dear Mr. Eugenides,

I’m writing to confirm that The Marriage Plot* is a joke. It is a joke, right? One can only assume that you exhausted all of your creative juices on Middlesex and simply had nothing left to give. I am honestly so taken aback by how poorly executed this novel is that I’m considering tweaking my once steadfast anti-censorship views. The contrast between this trite storyline and the creativity of your previous novel (Middlesex review) is shocking, to say the least. Mid-read, I felt like I was watching the film From Dusk Till Dawn. Tarantino is a main character, so you expect great things…up until everyone transforms into low-budget vampires and you realize that you can never un-see the unnecessarily ridiculous shit you just saw. Likewise, I can never recover the time I spent reading this 400 page monstrosity. Be forewarned, however, that I will be suing you for the $4.00 I used to buy the book on Amazon.

You might be wondering why I feel so passionately disappointed by this novel. Simply put: the story is not worth telling. There are three main characters, trapped in a sickening love triangle. Madeline, the woman of mutual desire, is incredibly selfish and so boring that I actually feel burdened when her name is mentioned. To clarify, she is not boring because she is a spoiled, well-educated rich girl. She is boring because she is simple-minded…and she happens to also be a spoiled, well-educated rich girl. For instance, she has a self-imposed rule to never date guys who go to shrinks because she can’t really wrap her mind around the idea of having emotional issues that run deeper than “why hasn’t he called me back yet?” Mr. Eugenides, I’m not sure how much you know about women, but I can assure you that we’re not all sitting in our beds at night, plucking at flower petals and sullenly murmuring, “he loves me… he loves me not”. Instead, I’m currently eating dry Cinnamon Toast Crunch out of the box, listening to Drake talk about how he came through on his Wu-Tang, and trying to figure out why my “I mustache you what time it is” clock won’t properly display the time. I may not be an entirely complex person 24/7 but I am also not pining over men every second of every day and it’s frankly embarrassing that you would reduce the main character to such constant triviality. I understand that these people exist but I sure as hell don’t want to read about them.

Leonard, Madeline’s boyfriend, is a slight step up. We do not find out about his manic-depression until pretty late in the game. This might have been a half-hearted attempt at implying the insidious nature of the disease; instead, it made me feel like I had been lied to and led astray by you for no real, useful purpose. Leonard is a product of neglect and abuse; the dysfunctionality which defines his childhood becomes such a normalcy for him that it warps his ability to maintain romantic relationships later on. He feels like he is undeserving when things are going well in his love-life; these lowered expectations, coupled with his mental illness, effectively sabotage anything good he has going for him. I rooted for him until he pulled a dramatic, immature stunt at the end. I thought we were dealing with young adults in their mid-twenties, not ten year olds. At this point, I would much prefer a love story about ten year olds—specifically one involving Stan Marsh and Wendy Testaburger.

Lastly, there is Mitchell, the distant admirer of Madeline and direct foil of Leonard. After graduation, he travels through Europe and Asia, loosely as a spiritual pursuit. I respect that he actively seeks non-superficial pleasures as he tries to determine if truth can be found through the heart and not just the mind. Mainly, though, I am confused by him. His thoughts directly contradict his actions; while this is a fairly common and realistic scenario, it is unsuccessfully implemented as a cogent train of thought in your writing. The contradiction strikes me as less of a practical portrayal and more of an incomprehensible series of events. Read: why the hell are you doing what you’re doing, Mitchell? Stop.

Why would you choose such uninteresting characters for the crux of your novel?! I rue all of the wasted potential. You begin the book with the following quote from Francois de La Rochefoucauld: “People would never fall in love if they hadn’t heard love talked about” (Eugenides, 1). This is a good start; you really had something here that you could run with. It challenges readers—is love merely a social construction? Is love just a mental state that can be manipulated as such? Can you overcome predictability and express a purely original thought? Is newness even a possibility in this day and age? Are we capable of loving people in ways that don’t feel like we’re acting from a script?

I anticipated that this love triangle would be different from the “marriage plots” of previous literature, and I sincerely hoped that it would strike me as unique and unformulaic. I imagined a slew of questions that the novel could address—what defines love? Is it the same for everyone? Can unconventional pathways to love survive and thrive? Your novel, to my dismay, gave very half-ass answers. The book is overwrought with gender tensions, but the only remotely compelling romantic setback centers on Leonard’s bipolar disorder. Leonard’s understanding of love is that it can transcend all differences. Accordingly, he wonders why he and Madeline cannot seem to connect despite his disease. On the other hand, Madeline feels that Leonard is unknowable and thus unlovable unless she immerses herself in his pain and truly understands what he is going through. This sobering conclusion makes her question whether their relationship is strong enough to withstand the trials and tribulations that make Leonard who he is. In this isolated situation, I might think that Madeline is a loving, considerate person; however, taking into account the entire novel, her reluctance reinforces her crippling dependency on men. She is only capable of defining herself in relation to her significant other at the time. I thought I was going to get something refreshing from this novel. Alternatively, I am shown how women’s slavery to domesticity and lack of financial independence in the Victorian era translates to the modern day in your mind: emotional dependency. This is how I feel about people like Madeline:

As a whole, I am thankful that I read this insofar as I can (hopefully) prevent others from making the same mistake. A fellow Goodreads reviewer properly renamed the novel The Marriage Plop. Your characters are flawed in ways that typically make for appealing literature. Unfortunately, they had very little actual substance and I grew weary of crossing my fingers that each subsequent chapter would offer me deeper insights. Usually, even if I am uninterested and uninvested in a book’s plot, I can still appreciate the writing style. Not in this case. I give this book 1 out of 5 camel humps because the fact of the matter is that I would not recommend this to anyone. The 2-hump ratings I have given on the blog thus far (Crime and Punishment review and Heart of Darkness review) acknowledge the respective author’s impressive prose and the cultural relevance of a *classic*. This book is bereft of all such benefits. Its only redeeming quality is its infrequent racy sex scenes. If I’m looking to blush on the subway, there are millions of other methods I would prefer.


A Regretful Reader

*Eugenides, Jeffrey. The Marriage Plot. New York: Picador, 2011. Print.

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