It was strangely intimate yet superficial at the same time. It didn’t have the same emotional depth as ‘Middlesex’ or ‘The Virgin Suicides’ and I am, personally, so bored of all the indulgent talk about how being in your twenties is hard.
It’s standard Eugenides, it’s an emotionally charged and complex coming-of-age story. Every moment is written to feel like you’ve lived and breathed it too, no matter how remote the chances. He’s created three completely different characters in Madeline Hanna, Leonard Bankhead, and Mitchell Grammaticus but somehow, I was still able to relate to all three of them. I love that whenever Eugenides writes, the words get under my skin and even for a few days afterwards, I was still thinking about the little moments that he described.
It definitely doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of love: unrequited love, the relationship between sex and love, and the impacts of family on our relationships. But my favourite part was the depiction of mental illness and its effects on trying to love someone. It was so brazen and so unashamed, the scientific aspects of it (i.e. all the chemical imbalances in the brain) was melded so perfectly with the real life repercussions of having Manic Depression third-wheel your relationship.
Eugenides separated his story into different chapters from each of his characters perspective and it was clearly done so that we can really walk in the characters’ shoes and get a holistic understanding of the characters, from their own responses to situations and how others see them. I like that he still kept the plot moving when we switched between characters; he wasn’t exploring the same scene from different viewpoints so it didn’t feel repetitive.
And on a really superficial note, I also loved all the internal literary discussions that the university kids were having. I really do think that Eugenides was mocking all the literary talk and the sheer posturing of it all. If anyone actually talks like that, I honest to God want to know because I thought I was an asshole when it came to literary snobbishness.
In essence, there were a lot of things I did like about ‘The Marriage Plot’. What I didn’t like was more to do with topic choice.
The tribulations of being in your twenties is such a common discussion point that it has already been explored to death in every medium possible. There’s a million and one articles and tv shows being pumped out everyday about how being in your early twenties is bewildering and that adulting is hard. But if I’m going to speak candidly, I don’t think the issues that we face is any different from what previous generations have faced in the Western culture, the only difference is that we’re just experiencing it with technology and easily accessed contraception, so I’m surprised Eugenides chose this as an area to explore because his track record shows that he’ll choose the hard-hitting topics like teenage girls killing themselves and transgenders.
I will admit though, it’s very reassuring to see that the confusion of your twenties is not an isolated generational experience (so even though I think it’s indulging to keep talking about it, it doesn’t stop me from being neurotic about my own experiences). I think I would have loved this novel more if the twenties talk wasn’t so over-done and so over-explored; there wasn’t anything new for Eugenides to add and he didn’t introduce anything new, so this novel just felt like another voice adding to the already deafening chorus of how being a newly minted university graduate is difficult because you don’t know what you want from life.
To be fair, asking Eugenides to write another ‘Middlesex’ or ‘The Virgin Suicides’ is a bit much, you can’t keep producing works of art. Also, in another point in Eugenides’ favour, ‘The Marriage Plot’ is still a fantastic novel, it explores the highs and lows of being in your twenties and it made me feel less alone. But the topic choice felt so basic and the execution weaker, in comparison to Eugenides’ earlier works, that it felt like a let-down.
On Another Note
You guys, I’m totally trying with the romance books ok?