The Marriage Plot

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Overview

Madeleine Hanna was the dutiful English major who didn't get the memo. While everyone else in the early 1980s was reading Derrida, she was happily absorbed with Jane Austen and George Eliot: purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. Madeleine was the girl who dressed a little too nicely for the taste of her more Bohemian friends, the perfect girlfriend whose college love life, despite her good looks, hadn't lived up to expectations.

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The Marriage Plot: A Novel

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Overview

Madeleine Hanna was the dutiful English major who didn't get the memo. While everyone else in the early 1980s was reading Derrida, she was happily absorbed with Jane Austen and George Eliot: purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. Madeleine was the girl who dressed a little too nicely for the taste of her more Bohemian friends, the perfect girlfriend whose college love life, despite her good looks, hadn't lived up to expectations.

But now, in the spring of her senior year, Madeleine has enrolled in a semiotics course "to see what all the fuss is about," and, for reasons that have nothing to do with school, life and literature will never be the same. Not after she falls in love with Leonard Morton—charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Oregon boy—who is possessed of seemingly inexhaustible energy and introduces her to the ecstasies of immediate experience. And certainly not after Mitchell Grammaticus—devotee of Patti Smith and Thomas Merton—resurfaces in her life, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

The triangle in this amazing and delicious novel about a generation beginning to grow up is age-old, and completely fresh and surprising. With devastating wit, irony, and an abiding understanding of and love for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides resuscitates the original energies of the novel while creating a story so contemporary that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.

The author of two beloved novels, Middlesex (bestselling winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, with more than 3 million copies sold) and the now classic The Virgin Suicides (made into a haunting film by Sofia Coppola), is back—with a brilliant, funny, and heartbreaking novel about the glories and vicissitudes of young love.

 

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In his first novel since his 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides resuscitates the primal energies of a novel while creating a love triangle story so contemporary that it reads like the intimate journal of own lives.

Sessalee Hensley

Publishers Weekly
Eugenides's first novel since 2002's Pulitzer Prize–winning Middlesex so impressively, ambitiously breaks the mold of its predecessor that it calls for the founding of a new prize to recognize its success both as a novel—and as a Jeffrey Eugenides novel. Importantly but unobtrusively set in the early 1980s, this is the tale of Madeleine Hanna, recent Brown University English grad, and her admirer Mitchell Grammaticus, who opts out of Divinity School to walk the earth as an ersatz pilgrim. Madeleine is equally caught up, both with the postmodern vogue (Derrida, Barthes)—conflicting with her love of James, Austen, and Salinger—and with the brilliant Leonard Bankhead, whom she met in semiotics class and whose fits of manic depression jeopardize his suitability as a marriage prospect. Meanwhile, Mitchell winds up in Calcutta working with Mother Theresa's volunteers, still dreaming of Madeleine. In capturing the heady spirit of youthful intellect on the verge, Eugenides revives the coming-of-age novel for a new generation The book's fidelity to its young heroes and to a superb supporting cast of enigmatic professors, feminist theorists, neo-Victorians, and concerned mothers, and all of their evolving investment in ideas and ideals is such that the central argument of the book is also its solution: the old stories may be best after all, but there are always new ways to complicate them. (Oct.)
Library Journal
"The way of true love never works out, except at the end of an English novel." So says Trollope in Barchester Towers, one of those English novels where "the marriage plot" thrived until it was swept aside by 20th-century reality. Now Roland Barthes's contention that "the lover's discourse is today of an extreme solitude" better sums up the situation. Or so English literature-besotted Madeleine, 1980s Brown graduating senior, comes to discover. Giving in to the zeitgeist, Madeleine takes a course on semiotics and meets Leonard, who's brilliant, charismatic, and unstable. They've broken up, which makes moody spiritual seeker Mitchell Grammaticus happy, since he pines for Madeleine. But on graduation day, Madeleine discovers that Leonard is in the hospital—in fact, he is a manic depressive with an on-again, off-again relationship with his medications—and leaps to his side. So begins the story of their love (but does it work out?), as Mitchell heads to Europe and beyond for his own epiphanies. VERDICT Your standard love triangle? Absolutely not. This extraordinary, liquidly written evocation of love's mad rush and inevitable failures will feed your mind as you rapidly turn the pages. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 4/11/11.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Library Journal
A Pulitzer Prize winner for Middlesex, which has sold more than three million copies, and of the darkly delicious The Virgin Suicides (catch the Sofia Coppola film), Eugenides doesn't necessarily need me to rave about him. But I'm so taken with the idea behind this novel. Madeleine Hanna, a conscientious, neatly dressed English major in the early 1980s, blissfully reads Austen while everyone else studies Derrida. (Yes, I remember it well.) She finally decides to get hip by taking a semiotics class, where she meets irresistible loner Leonard Morten, who teaches her about more than signs and symbols. Meanwhile, the wittily named Mitchell Grammaticus, a voice from Madeleine's past, demands that they spend their lives together. A novel of ideas and triangular love from the brilliantly off-kilter Eugenides; with a one-day laydown, a national tour, library marketing, and a reading group guide. Get multiples.
Kirkus Reviews

A stunning novel—erudite, compassionate and penetrating in its analysis of love relationships.

Eugenides focuses primarily on three characters, who all graduate from Brown in 1982. One of the pieces of this triangle is Madeleine Hanna, who finds herself somewhat embarrassed to have emerged from a "normal" household in New Jersey (though we later find out the normality of her upbringing is only relative). She becomes enamored with Leonard, a brilliant but moody student, in their Semiotics course, one of the texts being, ironically, Roland Barthes'A Lover's Discourse, which Madeleine finds disturbingly problematic in helping her figure out her own love relationship. We discover that Leonard had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder during his first year at Brown, and his struggle with mood swings throughout the novel is both titanic and tender. The third major player is Mitchell, a Religious Studies major who is also attracted to Madeleine but whose reticence she finds both disturbing and incomprehensible. On graduation day, Leonard has a breakdown and is hospitalized in a mental-health ward, and Madeleine shows her commitment by skipping the festivities and seeking him out. After graduation, Leonard and Madeleine live together when Leonard gets an internship at a biology lab on Cape Cod, and the spring after graduation they marry, when Leonard is able to get his mood swings under temporary control. Meanwhile Mitchell, who takes his major seriously, travels to India seeking a path—and briefly finds one when he volunteers to work with the dying in Calcutta. But Mitchell's road to self-discovery eventually returns him to the States—and opens another opportunity for love that complicates Madeleine's life.

Dazzling work—Eugenides continues to show that he is one of the finest of contemporary novelists.

Michiko Kakutani
It's in mapping Mitchell's search for some sort of belief that might fill the spiritual hole in his heart and Madeleine's search for a way to turn her passion for literature into a vocation that this novel is at its most affecting, reminding us with uncommon understanding what it is to be young and idealistic, in pursuit of true love and in love with books and ideas.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
…a romantic comedy wrapped around an academic satire that looks like the sprightly love child of Allegra Goodman and Jonathan Franzen…A master of voice, from the perfectly calibrated voyeurs of The Virgin Suicides to the bifurcated consciousness of Middlesex, Eugenides delivers The Marriage Plot as a sympathetic omniscient narrator who can move unobtrusively into these three lovers' minds, leaving just the faintest fingerprints of his light satire.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
"Eugenides’s ability to reinvent the timeless tale of love and soul-searching is swoon-worthy."—-Vanity Fair • "I gorged myself on The Marriage Plot."—-Geoff Dyer • "A masterful storyteller."—-The Seattle Times • "Audacious and moving."—-Time • "Extremely ambitious…surprising, and propulsive."—-Chicago Sun-Times • "Deeply humane and elegantly constructed."—-NPR • "The finale of The Marriage Plot is unexpected, beautiful, and—-Dare we hope?—-timeless."—-The Cleveland Plain Dealer • "A master of voice."—-The Washington Post • "Great serious romantic fun."—-Chicago Tribune • "Wry, engaging, and beautifully constructed."—-The New York Times Book Review • "A remarkable achievement."—-The Independent (London) • "You’ll never want The Marriage Plot to end."—-Elle
The Barnes & Noble Review

Jeffrey Eugenides has always sought to infuse his fiction with the pleasures of "old-fashioned" storytelling. He's striven for a "Classical shape," a "pleasing and elegant form," for "something that seizes you, that grabs your attention and gives you a ride through a book." Yet his stories are also highly self-conscious, given to "postmodern play" but not "the continuing sense of relativism that I got so tired of"; invariably the narration calls attention to itself in one way or another. The Virgin Suicides, for instance, issues forth from the perspective of a mesmerizing but inconsistent communal "we." And Middlesex, the captivating story of a Greek-American family that begets a girl named Callie who becomes a boy named Cal, combines what Eugenides has called a third-person heroic epic with a coming-of-age tale, fusing the two with a film-reel chattiness which hasn't aged well.

Compared with the sweep and whimsy of these earlier stories, The Marriage Plot is tighter, more sober, and surprisingly message- driven. The book does live and breathe, but through its characters, not through its agenda, which is to prove that the romantic preoccupations of the nineteenth century are as relevant in our day as they were then, that love and spirituality are still our most important problems, and that the question whether and whom to marry is not passé but as fraught and as vexing as it ever was. At its best The Marriage Plot conjures the heat and confusion of young, troubled love in all its dreadful complexity. At times, though, the story is so constricted and pedagogical, it feels like a controlled experiment involving the interbreeding of Middlemarch and the criticism of Roland Barthes.

The setting is Brown University in 1982, at the dawn of American fascination with French literary theory and in the heyday of second- wave feminism, when English majors were first being taught Derrida over Dickens and young couples were beginning fairly routinely to live together without marrying. Madeline Hanna, a beautiful literature student whose bookshelves and intellectual interests tend toward the Victorians, grudgingly takes a semiotics class in her final year. There she meets Leonard Bankhead, a brilliant biology major who's as much of a misfit in the class, with his bandanna and candor and athletic frame, as she is. But unlike Madeline, Leonard radiates ease, confidently debating the most difficult material with their black-clad, supercilious classmates. It is his composure and self-possession as much as his intellect and ambition — "My goal in life is to become an adjective," he says: " 'That was so Bankheadian' " — that inspires Madeline's infatuation with him.

Once they become lovers, he starts finishing her sentences, "as if her mind was too slow. As if he couldn't wait for her to gather her thoughts. He riffed on the things she said, going off on strange tangents, making puns." Leonard's genius, it becomes clear, is linked to dangerous and disquieting bouts of mania. When Madeline tells him, while they're in bed together, that she loves him, he walks across the room, naked, pulls her copy of Barthes's A Lover's Discourse from her bag, and points to a crushing passage: "Once the first avowal has been made 'I love you' has no meaning whatever..." Their on-again, off-again relationship, and Leonard's seesawing emotional state, bedevil Madeline throughout the novel.

Meanwhile, her sometime friend and constant suitor, Mitchell Grammaticus, a religious studies student also brilliant who's promised entry to the Ivy League divinity school of his choosing on the strength of a final exam, is so obsessed with Madeline and so unsure what to do with himself after graduation that he scrapes together some money and sets out for India, via Europe, to distance himself from the object of his desire and to make real his spiritual quest by caring for the infirm and the dying with Mother Teresa.

Before the final pages, there will be a wedding, psychological breakdowns at home and abroad, plenty of class-based tension, and even more heartache. As in all of Eugenides's fiction, many of the details are wonderfully surprising and true. What for me reveals the inner life of the snobbish and naive but good-hearted Madeline more than anything else is her memory of the old custom-made wallpaper, featuring scenes of her little redheaded namesake from Ludwig Bemelmans's children's books, that she talks her formidable mother out of tearing out and replacing in her bedroom at home.

But ultimately The Marriage Plot is a disappointing concoction, not fully integrated; its flavors separated like orange juice left sitting too long. As A. S. Byatt did in Possession, Eugenides wants to offer at once all the satisfying coincidences, thwarted passion, and acute social criticism of Anna Karenina or Great Expectations, and the self-awareness and profundity of a postmodern novel of ideas. Whereas Byatt's book delivers romance, intrigue, and puzzle-solving pleasure alongside ardent and unexpected philosophy, Eugenides's latest is hobbled by a theoretical framework that drains life from the characters, slows the momentum, and fails to provide insights original or illuminating enough to justify all the metafictional parlor tricks. It lacks the righteous fury of Bleak House, the tumultuous drama of Jane Eyre, the microscopic inspection of The Pale King, the coldly incisive self-reflexivity of J. M. Coetzee, the humor and ease of John Barth...

Which is not to say I disliked it. I read it with enthusiasm from start to finish; I laughed several times; I teared up at the end. But all too often reading The Marriage Plot was less like sinking into a George Eliot novel than studying an insightful academic article about one.

Maud Newton's writing has appeared in numerous publications. Her blog is at maudnewton.com.

Reviewer: Maud Newton

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374203054
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 10/11/2011
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 1,075,201
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Eugenides was born in Detroit and attended Brown and Stanford Universities. His first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux to great accliam in 1993, and he has received numerous awards for his work. In 2003, Eugenides received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Middlesex (FSG, 2002), which was also a finalist for the National Book Criticis Circle Award, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and France's Prix Medicis, and has sold more than 3 million copies.

Biography

Jeffrey Eugenides grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and attended Brown and Stanford Universities. His novel Middlesex was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Ambassador Book Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, France's Prix Medicis, and the Lambda Literary Award. It was also selected for Oprah's Book Club. Eugenides' first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was adapted into a critically-acclaimed film by Sofia Coppola. He is on the faculty of Princeton University, and lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Good To Know

Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Everything Is Illuminated grew out of his creative writing thesis project, which was advised by Joyce Carol Oates and Eugenides.

Eugenides considered becoming a priest or a monk, and worked alongside Mother Teresa in India for one week during a traveling break from college. He explained to the Calgary Herald, "I was so unformed in my personality and was trying on different personas; being a saint was a bit tight on my shoulders, though. At 20 you can really change your philosophy of the world by reading a single book, or by one chance meeting."

Eugenides, who got the idea for The Virgin Suicides when his nephew's babysitter revealed to him that she and all her siblings had attempted suicide, wrote the book while working as an administrator at the Academy of American Poets in New York. The first chapter was published in the Paris Review in 1991, getting him an agent and, two days later, a book deal.

In a 1995 piece for the New York Times entitled, "Hand Me My Air Guitar: I'm Still a Jethro Tull Fan," Eugenides paid homage to one of his favorite bands. "Being a Tull fan is a chronic condition," he wrote. "As with malaria, a swampiness reclaims the veins without warning."

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    1. Hometown:
      Princeton, NJ
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 8, 1960
    2. Place of Birth:
      Detroit, Michigan
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Brown University, 1983; M.A. in creative writing/English, Stanford University, 1986

Read an Excerpt

To start with, look at all the books. There were her Edith Wharton novels, arranged not by title but date of publication; there was the complete Modern Library set of Henry James, a gift from her father on her twenty-first birthday; there were the dog-eared paperbacks assigned in her college courses, a lot of Dickens, a smidgen of Trollope, along with good helpings of Austen, George Eliot, and the redoubtable Brontë sisters. There were a whole lot of black-and-white New Directions paperbacks, mostly poetry by people like H.D. or Denise Levertov. There were the Colette novels she read on the sly. There was the first edition of Couples, belonging to her mother, which Madeleine had surreptitiously dipped into back in sixth grade and which she was using now to provide textual support in her English honors thesis on the marriage plot. There was, in short, this mid-size but still portable library representing pretty much everything Madeleine had read in college, a collection of texts, seemingly chosen at random, whose focus slowly narrowed, like a personality test, a sophisticated one you couldn’t trick by anticipating the implications of its questions and finally got so lost in that your only recourse was to answer the simple truth. And then you waited for the result, hoping for “Artistic,” or “Passionate,” thinking you could live with “Sensitive,” secretly fearing “Narcissistic” and “Domestic,” but finally being presented with an outcome that cut both ways and made you feel different depending on the day, the hour, or the guy you happened to be dating: “Incurably Romantic.”

These were the books in the room where Madeleine lay, with a pillow over her head, on the morning of her college graduation. She’d read each and every one, often multiple times, frequently underlining passages, but that was no help to her now. Madeleine was trying to ignore the room and everything in it. She was hoping to drift back down into the oblivion where she’d been safely couched for the last three hours. Any higher level of wakefulness would force her to come to grips with certain disagreeable facts: for instance, the amount and variety of the alcohol she’d imbibed last night, and the fact that she’d gone to sleep with her contacts in. Thinking about such specifics would, in turn, call to mind the reasons she’d drunk so much in the first place, which she definitely didn’t want to do. And so Madeleine adjusted her pillow, blocking out the early morning light, and tried to fall back to sleep.

But it was useless. Because right then, at the other end of her apartment, the doorbell began to ring.

Early June, Providence, Rhode Island, the sun up for almost two hours already, lighting up the pale bay and the smokestacks of the Narragansett Electric factory, rising like the sun on the Brown University seal emblazoned on all the pennants and banners draped up over campus, a sun with a sagacious face, representing knowledge. But this sun—the one over Providence— was doing the metaphorical sun one better, because the founders of the university, in their Baptist pessimism, had chosen to depict the light of knowledge enshrouded by clouds, indicating that ignorance had not yet been dispelled from the human realm, whereas the actual sun was just now fighting its way through cloud cover, sending down splintered beams of light and giving hope to the squadrons of parents, who’d been soaked and frozen all weekend, that the unseasonable weather might not ruin the day’s festivities. All over College Hill, in the geometric gardens of the Georgian mansions, the magnolia-scented front yards of Victorians, along brick sidewalks running past black iron fences like those in a Charles Addams cartoon or a Lovecraft story; outside the art studios at the Rhode Island School of Design, where one painting major, having stayed up all night to work, was blaring Patti Smith; shining off the instruments (tuba and trumpet, respectively) of the two members of the Brown marching band who had arrived early at the meeting point and were nervously looking around, wondering where everyone else was; brightening the cobblestone side streets that led downhill to the polluted river, the sun was shining on every brass doorknob, insect wing, and blade of grass. And, in concert with the suddenly flooding light, like a starting gun for all the activity, the doorbell in Madeleine’s fourth- floor apartment began, clamorously, insistently, to ring.

The pulse reached her less as a sound than as a sensation, an electric shock shooting up her spine. In one motion Madeleine tore the pillow off her head and sat up in bed. She knew who was ringing the buzzer. It was her parents. She’d agreed to meet Alton and Phyllida for breakfast at 7:30. She’d made this plan with them two months ago, in April, and now here they were, at the appointed time, in their eager, dependable way. That Alton and Phyllida had driven up from New Jersey to see her graduate, that what they were here to celebrate today wasn’t only her achievement but their own as parents, had nothing wrong or unexpected about it. The problem was that Madeleine, for the first time in her life, wanted no part of it. She wasn’t proud of herself. She was in no mood to celebrate. She’d lost faith in the significance of the day and what the day represented.

She considered not answering. But she knew that if she didn’t answer, one of her roommates would, and then she’d have to explain where she’d disappeared to last night, and with whom. Therefore, Madeleine slid out of the bed and reluctantly stood up.

This seemed to go well for a moment, standing up. Her head felt curiously light, as if hollowed out. But then the blood, draining from her skull like sand from an hourglass, hit a bottleneck, and the back of her head exploded in pain.

In the midst of this barrage, like the furious core from which it emanated, the buzzer erupted again. She came out of her bedroom and stumbled in bare feet to the intercom in the hall, slapping the speak button to silence the buzzer.

“Hello?”

“What’s the matter? Didn’t you hear the bell?” It was Alton’s voice, as deep and commanding as ever, despite the fact that it was issuing from a tiny speaker.

“Sorry,” Madeleine said. “I was in the shower.”

“Likely story. Will you let us in, please?”

Madeleine didn’t want to. She needed to wash up first.

“I’m coming down,” she said.

This time, she held down the SPEAK button too long, cutting off Alton’s response. She pressed it again and said, “Daddy?” but while she was speaking, Alton must have been speaking, too, because when she pressed LISTEN all that came through was static.

Madeleine took this pause in communications to lean her forehead against the door frame. The wood felt nice and cool. The thought struck her that, if she could keep her face pressed against the soothing wood, she might be able to cure her headache, and if she could keep her forehead pressed against the door frame for the rest of the day, while somehow still being able to leave the apartment, she might make it through breakfast with her parents, march in the commencement procession, get a diploma, and graduate.

She lifted her face and pressed SPEAK again.

“Daddy?”

But it was Phyllida’s voice that answered. “Maddy? What’s the matter?

Let us in.”

“My roommates are still asleep. I’m coming down. Don’t ring the bell

anymore.”

“We want to see your apartment!”

“Not now. I’m coming down. Don’t ring.”

She took her hand from the buttons and stood back, glaring at the intercom as if daring it to make a sound. When it didn’t, she started back down the hall. She was halfway to the bathroom when her roommate Abby emerged, blocking the way. She yawned, running a hand through her big hair, and then, noticing Madeleine, smiled knowingly.

“So,” Abby said, “where did you sneak off to last night?”

“My parents are here,” Madeleine said. “I have to go to breakfast.”

“Come on. Tell me.”

“There’s nothing to tell. I’m late.”

“How come you’re wearing the same clothes, then?”

Instead of replying, Madeleine looked down at herself. Ten hours earlier, when she’d borrowed the black Betsey Johnson dress from Olivia, Madeleine had thought it looked good on her. But now the dress felt hot and sticky, the fat leather belt looked like an S&M restraint, and there was a stain near the hem that she didn’t want to identify.

Abby, meanwhile, had knocked on Olivia’s door and entered. “So much for Maddy’s broken heart,” she said. “Wake up! You’ve got to see this.”

The path to the bathroom was clear. Madeleine’s need for a shower was extreme, almost medical. At a minimum, she had to brush her teeth. But Olivia’s voice was audible now. Soon Madeleine would have two roommates interrogating her. Her parents were liable to start ringing again any minute. As quietly as possible, she inched back down the hall. She stepped into a pair of loafers left by the front door, crushing the heels flat as she caught her balance, and escaped into the outer corridor.

The elevator was waiting at the end of the floral runner. Waiting, Madeleine realized, because she’d failed to close the sliding gate when she’d staggered out of the thing a few hours earlier. Now she shut the gate securely and pressed the button for the lobby, and with a jolt the antique contraption began to descend through the building’s interior gloom.

Madeleine’s building, a Neo-Romanesque castle called the Narragansett that wrapped around the plunging corner of Benefit Street and Church Street, had been built at the turn of the century. Among its surviving period details—the stained-glass skylight, the brass wall sconces, the marble lobby—was the elevator. Made of curving metal bars like a giant birdcage, the elevator miraculously still functioned, but it moved slowly, and as the car dropped, Madeleine took the opportunity to make herself more presentable. She ran her hands through her hair, fingercombing

it. She polished her front teeth with her index finger. She rubbed mascara crumbs from her eyes and moistened her lips with her tongue. Finally, passing the balustrade on the second floor, she checked her reflection in the small mirror attached to the rear panel.

One of the nice things about being twenty-two, or about being Madeleine Hanna, was that three weeks of romantic anguish, followed by a night of epic drinking, didn’t do much visible damage. Except for puffiness around her eyes, Madeleine looked like the same pretty, dark-haired person as usual. The symmetries of her face—the straight nose, the Katharine Hepburn–ish cheekbones and jawline—were almost mathematical in their precision. Only the slight furrow in her brow gave evidence of the slightly anxious person that Madeleine felt herself, intrinsically, to be.

She could see her parents waiting below. They were trapped between the lobby door and the door to the street, Alton in a seersucker jacket, Phyllida in a navy suit and matching gold- buckled purse. For a second, Madeleine had an impulse to stop the elevator and leave her parents stuck in the foyer amid all the college-town clutter—the posters for New Wave bands with names like Wretched Misery or the Clits, the pornographic Egon Schiele drawings by the RISD kid on the second floor, all the clamorous Xeroxes whose subtext conveyed the message that the

wholesome, patriotic values of her parents’ generation were now on the ash heap of history, replaced by a nihilistic, post-punk sensibility that Madeleine herself didn’t understand but was perfectly happy to scandalize her parents by pretending that she did—before the elevator stopped in the lobby and she slid open the gate and stepped out to meet them.

Alton was first through the door. “Here she is!” he said avidly. “The college graduate!” In his net-charging way, he surged forward to seize her in a hug. Madeleine stiffened, worried that she smelled of alcohol or, worse, of sex.

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t let us see your apartment,” Phyllida said, coming up next. “I was looking forward to meeting Abby and Olivia. We’d love to treat them to dinner later.”

“We’re not staying for dinner,” Alton reminded her.

“Well, we might. That depends on Maddy’s schedule.”

“No, that’s not the plan. The plan is to see Maddy for breakfast and

then leave after the ceremony.”

“Your father and his plans,” Phyllida said to Madeleine. “Are you

wearing that dress to the ceremony?”

“I don’t know,” Madeleine said.

“I can’t get used to these shoulder pads all the young women are

wearing. They’re so mannish.”

“It’s Olivia’s.”

“You look pretty whacked out, Mad,” Alton said. “Big party last

night?”

“Not really.”

“Don’t you have anything of your own to wear?” Phyllida said.

“I’ll have my robe on, Mummy,” Madeleine said, and, to forestall further inspection, headed past them through the foyer. Outside, the sun had lost its battle with the clouds and vanished. The weather looked not much better than it had all weekend. Campus Dance, on Friday night, had been more or less rained out. The Baccalaureate service on Sunday had proceeded under a steady drizzle. Now, on Monday, the rain had stopped, but the temperature felt closer to St. Patrick’s than to Memorial Day.

As she waited for her parents to join her on the sidewalk, it occurred to Madeleine that she hadn’t had sex, not really. This was some consolation.

“Your sister sends her regrets,” Phyllida said, coming out. “She has to take Richard the Lionhearted for an ultrasound today.”

Richard the Lionhearted was Madeleine’s nine-week-old nephew. Everyone else called him Richard.

“What’s the matter with him?” Madeleine asked.

“One of his kidneys is petite, apparently. The doctors want to keep an eye on it. If you ask me, all these ultrasounds do is find things to worry about.”

“Speaking of ultrasounds,” Alton said, “I need to get one on my knee.”

Phyllida paid no attention. “Anyway, Allie’s devastated not to see you graduate. As is Blake. But they’re hoping you and your new beau might visit them this summer, on your way to the Cape.”

You had to stay alert around Phyllida. Here she was, ostensibly talking about Richard the Lionhearted’s petite kidney, and already she’d managed to move the subject to Madeleine’s new boyfriend, Leonard (whom Phyllida and Alton hadn’t met), and to Cape Cod (where Madeleine had announced plans to cohabitate with him). On a normal day, when her brain was working, Madeleine would have been able to keep one step ahead of Phyllida, but this morning the best she could manage was to let the words float past her.

Fortunately, Alton changed the subject. “So, where do you recommend for breakfast?”

Madeleine turned and looked vaguely down Benefit Street. “There’s a place this way.”

She started shuffling along the sidewalk. Walking—moving—seemed like a good idea. She led them past a line of quaint, nicely maintained houses bearing historical placards, and a big apartment building with a gable roof. Providence was a corrupt town, crime-ridden and mob-controlled, but up on College Hill this was hard to see. The sketchy downtown and dying or dead textile mills lay below, in the grim distance. Here the narrow streets, many of them cobblestone, climbed past mansions or snaked around Puritan graveyards full of headstones as narrow as heaven’s door, streets with names like Prospect, Benevolent, Hope, and Meeting, all of them feeding into the arboreous campus at the top. The sheer physical elevation suggested an intellectual one.

“Aren’t these slate sidewalks lovely,” Phyllida said as she followed along. “We used to have slate sidewalks on our street. They’re much more attractive. But then the borough replaced them with concrete.”

“Assessed us for the bill, too,” Alton said. He was limping slightly, bringing up the rear. The right leg of his charcoal trousers was swelled from the knee brace he wore on and off the tennis court. Alton had been club champion in his age group for twelve years running, one of those older guys with a sweatband ringing a balding crown, a choppy forehand, and absolute murder in his eyes. Madeleine had been trying to beat Alton her entire life without success. This was even more infuriating because she was better than he was, at this point. But whenever she took a set from Alton he started intimidating her, acting mean, disputing calls, and her game fell apart. Madeleine was worried that there was something paradigmatic in this, that she was destined to go through life being cowed by less capable men. As a result, Madeleine’s tennis matches against Alton had assumed such outsize personal significance for her that she got tight whenever she played him, with predictable results. And Alton still gloated when he won, still got all rosy and jiggly, as if he’d bested her by sheer talent.

At the corner of Benefit and Waterman, they crossed behind the white steeple of First Baptist Church. In preparation for the ceremony, loudspeakers had been set up on the lawn. A man wearing a bow tie, a dean-of-students-looking person, was tensely smoking a cigarette and inspecting a raft of balloons tied to the churchyard fence.

By now Phyllida had caught up to Madeleine, taking her arm to negotiate the uneven slate, which was pushed up by the roots of gnarled plane trees that lined the curb. As a little girl, Madeleine had thought her mother pretty, but that was a long time ago. Phyllida’s face had gotten heavier over the years; her cheeks were beginning to sag like those of a camel. The conservative clothes she wore—the clothes of a philanthropist or lady ambassador—had a tendency to conceal her figure. Phyllida’s hair was where her power resided. It was expensively set into a smooth dome, like a band shell for the presentation of that long-running act, her face. For as long as Madeleine could remember, Phyllida had never been at a loss for words or shy about a point of etiquette. Among her friends Madeleine liked to make fun of her mother’s formality, but she often found herself comparing other people’s manners unfavorably with Phyllida’s.

And right now Phyllida was looking at Madeleine with the proper expression for this moment: thrilled by the pomp and ceremony, eager to put intelligent questions to any of Madeleine’s professors she happened to meet, or to trade pleasantries with fellow parents of graduating seniors. In short, she was available to everyone and everything and in step with the social and academic pageantry, all of which exacerbated Madeleine’s feeling of being out of step, for this day and the rest of her life.

She plunged on, however, across Waterman Street, and up the steps of Carr House, seeking refuge and coffee.

The café had just opened. The guy behind the counter, who was wearing Elvis Costello glasses, was rinsing out the espresso machine. At a table against the wall, a girl with stiff pink hair was smoking a clove cigarette and reading Invisible Cities. “Tainted Love” played from the stereo on top of the refrigerator.

Phyllida, holding her handbag protectively against her chest, had paused to peruse the student art on the walls: six paintings of small, skindiseased dogs wearing bleach-bottle collars.

“Isn’t this fun?” she said tolerantly.

“La Bohème,” Alton said.

Madeleine installed her parents at a table near the bay window, as far away from the pink- haired girl as possible, and went up to the counter. The guy took his time coming over. She ordered three coffees—a large for her—and bagels. While the bagels were being toasted, she brought

the coffees over to her parents.

Alton, who couldn’t sit at the breakfast table without reading, had taken a discarded Village Voice from a nearby table and was perusing it. Phyllida was staring overtly at the girl with pink hair.

“Do you think that’s comfortable?” she inquired in a low voice.

Madeleine turned to see that the girl’s ragged black jeans were held together by a few hundred safety pins.

“I don’t know, Mummy. Why don’t you go ask her?”

“I’m afraid of getting poked.”

“According to this article,” Alton said, reading the Voice, “homosexuality didn’t exist until the nineteenth century. It was invented. In Germany.”

The coffee was hot, and lifesavingly good. Sipping it, Madeleine began to feel slightly less awful.

After a few minutes, she went up to get the bagels. They were a little burned, but she didn’t want to wait for new ones, and so brought them back to the table. After examining his with a sour expression, Alton began scraping it punitively with a plastic knife.

Phyllida asked, “So, are we going to meet Leonard today?”

“I’m not sure,” Madeleine said.

“Anything you want us to know about?”

“No.”

“Are you two still planning to live together this summer?”

By this time Madeleine had taken a bite of her bagel. And since the answer to her mother’s question was complicated—strictly speaking, Madeleine and Leonard weren’t planning on living together, because they’d broken up three weeks ago; despite this fact, however, Madeleine hadn’t given up hope of a reconciliation, and seeing as she’d spent so much effort getting her parents used to the idea of her living with a guy, and didn’t want to jeopardize that by admitting that the plan was off—she was relieved to be able to point at her full mouth, which prevented her from replying.

“Well, you’re an adult now,” Phyllida said. “You can do what you like. Though, for the record, I have to say that I don’t approve.”

“You’ve already gone on record about that,” Alton broke in.

“Because it’s still a bad idea!” Phyllida cried. “I don’t mean the propriety of it. I’m talking about the practical problems. If you move in with Leonard—or any young manand he’s the one with the job, then you begin at a disadvantage. What happens if you two don’t get along? Where are you then? You won’t have any place to live. Or anything to do.”

That her mother was correct in her analysis, that the predicament Phyllida warned Madeleine about was exactly the predicament she was already in, didn’t motivate Madeleine to register agreement.

“You quit your job when you met me,” Alton said to Phyllida.

“That’s why I know what I’m talking about.”

“Can we change the subject?” Madeleine said at last, having swallowed her food.

“Of course we can, sweetheart. That’s the last I’ll say about it. If your plans change, you can always come home. Your father and I would love to have you.”

“Not me,” Alton said. “I don’t want her. Moving back home is always a bad idea. Stay away.”

“Don’t worry,” Madeleine said. “I will.”

“The choice is yours,” Phyllida said. “But if you do come home, you could have the loft. That way you can come and go as you like.”

To her surprise, Madeleine found herself contemplating this proposal. Why not tell her parents everything, curl up in the backseat of the car, and let them take her home? She could move into her old bedroom, with the sleigh bed and the Madeline wallpaper. She could become a spinster, like Emily Dickinson, writing poems full of dashes and brilliance, and never gaining weight.

Phyllida brought her out of this reverie.

“Maddy?” she said. “Isn’t that your friend Mitchell?”

Madeleine wheeled in her seat. “Where?”

“I think that’s Mitchell. Across the street.”

In the churchyard, sitting Indian- style in the freshly mown grass, Madeleine’s “friend” Mitchell Grammaticus was indeed there. His lips were moving, as if he was talking to himself.

“Why don’t you invite him to join us?” Phyllida said.

“Now?”

“Why not? I’d love to see Mitchell.”

“He’s probably waiting for his parents,” Madeleine said.

Phyllida waved, despite the fact that Mitchell was too far away to notice.

“What’s he doing sitting on the ground?” Alton asked.

The three Hannas stared across the street at Mitchell in his half-lotus.

“Well, if you’re not going to ask him, I will,” Phyllida finally said.

“O.K.,” Madeleine said. “Fine. I’ll go ask him.”

The day was getting warmer, but not by much. Black clouds were massing in the distance as Madeleine came down the steps of Carr House and crossed the street into the churchyard. Someone inside the church was testing the loudspeakers, fussily repeating, “Sussex, Essex, and Kent. Sussex, Essex, and Kent.” A banner draped over the church entrance read “Class of 1982.” Beneath the banner, in the grass, was Mitchell. His lips were still moving silently, but when he noticed Madeleine approaching they abruptly stopped.

Madeleine remained a few feet away.

“My parents are here,” she informed him.

“It’s graduation,” Mitchell replied evenly. “Everyone’s parents are here.”

“They want to say hello to you.”

At this Mitchell smiled faintly. “They probably don’t realize you’re not speaking to me.”

“No, they don’t,” Madeleine said. “And, anyway, I am. Now. Speaking to you.”

“Under duress or as a change of policy?”

Madeleine shifted her weight, wrinkling her face unhappily. “Look. I’m really hungover. I barely slept last night. My parents have been here about ten minutes and they’re already driving me crazy. So if you could just come over and say hello, that would be great.”

Mitchell’s large emotional eyes blinked twice. He was wearing a vintage gabardine shirt, dark wool pants, and beat-up wingtips. Madeleine had never seen him in shorts or tennis shoes.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “About what happened.”

“Fine,” Madeleine said, looking away. “It doesn’t matter.”

“I was just being my usual vile self.”

“So was I.”

They were quiet a moment. Madeleine felt Mitchell’s eyes on her, and she crossed her arms over her chest.

What had happened was this: one night the previous December, in a state of anxiety about her romantic life, Madeleine had run into Mitchell on campus and brought him back to her apartment. She’d needed male attention and had flirted with him, without entirely admitting it to herself. In her bedroom, Mitchell had picked up a jar of deep-heating gel on her desk, asking what it was for. Madeleine had explained that people who were athletic sometimes got sore muscles. She understood that Mitchell might not have experienced this phenomenon, seeing as all he did was sit in the library, but he should take her word for it. At that point, Mitchell had come up behind her and wiped a gob of heating gel behind her ear. Madeleine jumped up, shouting at Mitchell, and wiped the gunk off with a T-shirt. Though she was within her rights to be angry, Madeleine also knew (even at the time) that she was using the incident as a pretext for getting Mitchell out of her bedroom and for covering up the fact that she’d been flirting with him in the first place. The worst part of the incident was how stricken Mitchell had looked, as if he’d

been about to cry. He kept saying he was sorry, he was just joking around, but she ordered him to leave. In the following days, replaying the incident in her mind, Madeleine had felt worse and worse about it. She’d been on the verge of calling Mitchell to apologize when she’d received a letter from him, a highly detailed, cogently argued, psychologically astute, quietly hostile four- page letter, in which he called her a “cocktease” and claimed that her behavior that night had been “the erotic equivalent of bread and circus, with just the circus.” The next time they’d run into each other, Madeleine had acted as if she didn’t know him, and they hadn’t spoken since.

Now, in the churchyard of First Baptist, Mitchell looked up at her and said, “O.K. Let’s go say hello to your parents.”

Phyllida was waving as they came up the steps. In the flirtatious voice she reserved for her favorite of Madeleine’s friends, she called out, “I thought that was you on the ground. You looked like a swami!”

“Congratulations, Mitchell!” Alton said, heartily shaking Mitchell’s hand. “Big day today. One of the milestones. A new generation takes the reins.”

They invited Mitchell to sit down and asked him if he wanted anything to eat. Madeleine went back to the counter to get more coffee, glad to have Mitchell keeping her parents occupied. As she watched him, in his old man’s clothes, engaging Alton and Phyllida in conversation, Madeleine thought to herself, as she’d thought many times before, that Mitchell was the kind of smart, sane, parent-pleasing boy she should fall in love with and marry. That she would never fall in love with Mitchell and marry him, precisely because of this eligibility, was yet another indication, in a morning teeming with them, of just how screwed up she was in matters of the heart.

When she returned to the table, no one acknowledged her.

“So, Mitchell,” Phyllida was asking, “what are your plans after graduation?”

“My father’s been asking me the same question,” Mitchell answered. “For some reason he thinks Religious Studies isn’t a marketable degree.”

Madeleine smiled for the first time all day. “See? Mitchell doesn’t have a job lined up, either.”

“Well, I sort of do,” Mitchell said.

“You do not,” Madeleine challenged him.

“I’m serious. I do.” He explained that he and his roommate, Larry Pleshette, had come up with a plan to fight the recession. As liberal-arts degree holders matriculating into the job market at a time when unemployment was at 9.5 percent, they had decided, after much consideration, to leave the country and stay away as long as possible. At the end of the summer, after they’d saved up enough money, they were going to backpack through Europe. After they’d seen everything in Europe there was to see, they were going to fly to India and stay there as long as their money held out. The whole trip would take eight or nine months, maybe as long as a year.

“You’re going to India?” Madeleine said. “That’s not a job.”

“We’re going to be research assistants,” Mitchell said. “For Prof. Hughes.”

“Prof. Hughes in the theater department?”

“I saw a program about India recently,” Phyllida said. “It was terribly depressing. The poverty!”

“That’s a plus for me, Mrs. Hanna,” Mitchell said. “I thrive in squalor.”

Phyllida, who couldn’t resist this sort of mischief, gave up her solemnity, rippling with amusement. “Then you’re going to the right place!”

“Maybe I’ll take a trip, too,” Madeleine said in a threatening tone.

No one reacted. Instead Alton asked Mitchell, “What sort of immunizations do you need for India?”

“Cholera and typhus. Gamma globulin’s optional.”

Phyllida shook her head. “Your mother must be worried sick.”

“When I was in the service,” Alton said, “they shot us up with a million things. Didn’t even tell us what the shots were for.”

“I think I’ll move to Paris,” Madeleine said in a louder voice. “Instead of getting a job.”

“Mitchell,” Phyllida continued, “with your interest in religious studies, I’d think India would be a perfect fit. They’ve got everything. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jains, Buddhists. It’s like Baskin and Robbins! I’ve always been fascinated by religion. Unlike my doubting-Thomas husband.”

Alton winked. “I doubt that doubting Thomas existed.”

“Do you know Paul Moore, Bishop Moore, at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine?” Phyllida said, keeping Mitchell’s attention. “He’s a great friend. You might find it interesting to meet him. We’d be happy to introduce you. When we’re in the city, I always go to services at the cathedral. Have you ever been there? Oh. Well. How can I describe it? It’s simply— well, simply divine!”

Phyllida held a hand to her throat with the plea sure of this bon mot, while Mitchell obligingly, even convincingly, laughed.

“Speaking of religious dignitaries,” Alton cut in, “did I ever tell you about the time we met the Dalai Lama? It was at this fundraiser at the Waldorf. We were in the receiving line. Must have been three hundred people at least. Anyway, when we finally got up to the Dalai Lama, I

asked him, ‘Are you any relation to Dolly Parton?’ ”

“I was mortified!” Phyllida cried. “Absolutely mortified.”

“Daddy,” Madeleine said, “you’re going to be late.”

“What?”

“You should get going if you want to get a good spot.”

Alton looked at his watch. “We’ve still got an hour.”

“It gets really crowded,” Madeleine emphasized. “You should go now.”

Alton and Phyllida looked at Mitchell, as if they trusted him to advise them. Under the table, Madeleine kicked him, and he alertly responded, “It does get pretty crowded.”

“Where’s the best place to stand?” Alton asked, again addressing Mitchell.

“By the Van Wickle Gates. At the top of College Street. That’s where we’ll come through.”

Alton stood up from the table. After shaking Mitchell’s hand, he bent to kiss Madeleine on the cheek. “We’ll see you later. Miss Baccalaureate, 1982.”

“Congratulations, Mitchell,” Phyllida said. “So nice to see you. And remember, when you’re on your Grand Tour, be sure to send your mother loads of letters. Otherwise, she’ll be frantic.”

To Madeleine, she said, “You might change that dress before the march. It has a visible stain.”

With that, Alton and Phyllida, in their glaring parental actuality, all seersucker and handbag, cuff links and pearls, crossed the beige-and-brick space of Carr House and went out the door.

As though to signal their departure, a new song came on: Joe Jackson’s high-pitched voice swooping above a synthesized drumbeat. The guy behind the counter cranked up the volume.

Madeleine laid her head on the table, her hair covering her face.

“I’m never drinking again,” she said.

“Famous last words.”

“You have no idea what’s been going on with me.”

“How could I? You haven’t been speaking to me.”

Without lifting her cheek from the table, Madeleine said in a pitiful voice, “I’m homeless. I’m graduating from college and I’m a homeless person.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“I am!” Madeleine insisted. “First I was supposed to move to New York with Abby and Olivia. Then it looked like I was moving to the Cape, though, so I told them to get another roommate. And now I’m not moving to the Cape and I have nowhere to go. My mother wants me to move back home but I’d rather kill myself.”

“I’m moving back home for the summer,” Mitchell said. “To Detroit. At least you’re near New York.”

“I haven’t heard back from grad school yet and it’s June,” Madeleine continued. “I was supposed to find out over a month ago! I could call the admissions department, but I don’t because I’m scared to find out that I’ve been rejected. As long as I don’t know, I still have hope.”

There was a moment before Mitchell spoke again. “You can come to India with me,” he said.

Madeleine opened one eye to see, through a whorl in her hair, that Mitchell wasn’t entirely joking.

“It’s not even about grad school,” she said. Taking a deep breath, she confessed, “Leonard and I broke up.”

It felt deeply pleasurable to say this, to name her sadness, and so Madeleine was surprised by the coldness of Mitchell’s reply.

“Why are you telling me this?” he said.

She lifted her head, brushing her hair out of her face. “I don’t know. You wanted to know what was the matter.”

“I didn’t, actually. I didn’t even ask.”

“I thought you might care,” Madeleine said. “Since you’re my friend.”

“Right,” Mitchell said, his voice suddenly sarcastic. “Our wonderful friendship! Our ‘friendship’ isn’t a real friendship because it only works on your terms. You set the rules, Madeleine. If you decide you don’t want to talk to me for three months, we don’t talk. Then you decide you do want to talk to me because you need me to entertain your parents—and now we’re talking again. We’re friends when you want to be friends, and we’re never more than friends because you don’t want to be. And I have to go along with that.”

“I’m sorry,” Madeleine said, feeling put-upon and blindsided. “I just don’t like you that way.”

“Exactly!” Mitchell cried. “You’re not attracted to me physically. O.K., fine. But who says I was ever attracted to you mentally?”

Madeleine reacted as if she’d been slapped. She was outraged, hurt, and defiant all at once.

“You’re such a”—she tried to think of the worst thing to say—“you’re such a jerk!” She was hoping to remain imperious, but her chest was stinging, and, to her dismay, she burst into tears.

Mitchell reached out to touch her arm, but Madeleine shook him off. Getting to her feet, trying not to look like someone angrily weeping, she went out the door and down the steps onto Waterman Street. Confronted by the festive churchyard, she turned downhill toward the river. She wanted to get away from campus. Her headache had returned, her temples were throbbing, and as she looked up at the storm clouds massing over downtown like more bad things to come, she asked herself why everyone was being so mean to her.

Copyright © 2011 by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Reading Group Guide

Does modern love have any need for romance, much less marriage? For Madeleine Hanna, an English major writing a senior thesis with the marriage plot as the centerpiece, the question looms large. In Madeleine's favorite novels, marriage is the plot. But in the story line of her own life, sexual liberation and career goals have made hopeless romantics obsolete—even while two thoroughly postmodern guys are vying for her affection. After all, it's the 1980s: she's supposed to be reaping the rewards of feminism.

As Madeleine's love triangle unfolds in the wake of college graduation, Jeffrey Eugenides brings us an exuberant portrait of contemporary relationships and the realities that sometimes drive them wildly off course. Released from the Ivy League, Madeleine and her suitors Leonard Bankhead (whom she met in a semiotics seminar) and Mitchell Grammaticus (the toga-less interloper at a freshman party in her dorm) dive into the world of adulthood. While Madeleine follows Leonard to Cape Cod, where he's accepted a biology fellowship, Mitchell travels the globe to get Madeleine out of his mind, probing the meaning of life and the existence of God throughout his sojourns.

Offering a wholly new approach to the classic love story, this is an intimate meditation on the quests—romantic and otherwise—that confound and propel us. The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading of The Marriage Plot. We hope they will enrich your experience as you explore this enthralling novel of life and literature.

QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION

1. The opening scene features a litany of the books Madeleine loves. What were your first impressions of her, based on her library? How are her beliefs about love transformed throughout the novel?

2. When Phyllida fell in love with Alton, she gave up her dream of becoming an actress in Hollywood. What sustains the Hannas' marriage despite this sacrifice? How are Alwyn and Madeleine influenced by their parents' marriage? Is Alwyn's marriage to Blake a bad one?

3. In Jeffrey Eugenides's depiction of Brown University culture in the 1980s, what does it take for the students to impress one another and their professors? What might Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida have to say about the signs in Dr. Zipperstein's Semiotics 211 class?

4. Why is Madeleine more attracted to Leonard than to Mitchell? As she copes with Leonard's instability and her feelings of guilt, how does mental illness shape the relationship?

5. What does Mitchell hope to discover as a student of religion? What role does religion play in his quest to be loved? Is his ideal—a religion devoid of myth and artificial social structures—attainable?

6. What does sex mean to Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell? Over the course of the novel, what do they discover about fantasy versus reality and the tandem between physical and emotional satisfaction?

7. What recurring themes did you detect in Mitchell's trip overseas as he tries to manage his money, his love life, and Larry? Does he return to America a stronger, changed person or an amplified version of his college self?

8. What does Alwyn try to teach her little sister about being a woman by sending the Bachelorette's Survival Kit? What does the kit help a woman survive?

9. Madeleine's parents are affluent and have enough free time to stay very involved in her life. Does this liberate her, or does it give her less freedom than Leonard, who is often left to fend for himself?

10. In their chosen career paths after college, what are Leonard and Madeleine each trying to uncover about life? Does his work on the yeast-cell experiment have anything in common with her work on Victorian novels?

11. Would you have said yes to Leonard's marriage proposal?

12. How does the novel's 1980s setting shape the plot? Do twenty-first-century college students face more or fewer challenges than Madeleine did?

13. Discuss the novel's meta-ending (an ending about endings). Does it reflect reality? What were your expectations for the characters?

14. Eugenides's previous fiction has given us unique, tragicomic perspectives on oppressive families, gender stereotypes, and the process of trying to discover our true selves. How does The Marriage Plot enhance your reading of Eugenides's other works?

15. Who did you become during your first year after college?

PRAISE FOR JEFFREY EUGENIDES

"Mr. Eugenides is blessed with the storyteller's most magical gift, the ability to transform the mundane into the extraordinary." —Suzanne Berne, The New York Times Book Review (on The Virgin Suicides)

"[Eugenides] has emerged as the great American writer that many of us suspected him of being." —Jeff Turrentine, Los Angeles Times Book Review (cover review for Middlesex)
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 311 )
Rating Distribution

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4 Star

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2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 311 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 2, 2011

    do not recommend

    I have attempted to post a negative review for this book three times and am not sure why it is not being accepted. Jeffrey Eugenides is an extremely talented writer and Middlesex is one of the best pieces of modern fiction I have ever read. This book, which I highly anticipated, is awful by comparison. The characters are a bunch of whiny,self-centered college students who don't mature by the end of the book. Even the most sympathetic character, Mitchell, grated on me. So one of the main characters suffers from manic-depression---it really doesn't add much weight to the story other than the reason for the self-absorbed female protagonist to skip her graduation. I was horribly dissatisfied by this book. If I could give zero stars on this site, I would.

    17 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 17, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Interesting and unusual.

    I enjoyed this read. It is very interesting and quite unusual. The characters were colorfully depicted. It was quite entertaining. I highly recommend it! I also will recommend the other book I bought with this one, which I really loved. THE CHATEAU by CD Swanson. It was an very interesting plot and the MC Dominique was fantastic, and all of the characters were flagrantly depicted! Good Twists. I highly recommend this book. Both of them. You won't be sorry.

    17 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 29, 2011

    Great characters, abrupt ending

    To Jeffrey Eugenides' credit, I found it hard to put this book down, finishing it in two days, just like Middlesex. However, in not having attended an Ivy League institution or having majored in English or religious studies, some of his college and literary references were a bit obscure for me. That's my problem, not his, I suppose. I also got the feeling that the beginning and middle of the book were fairly detailed, but the ending seems like it was completed with a publisher's deadline in mind. This book was certainly worth reading, with an interesting character development and complex interplay between love, lust, and mental illness, and the title certainly fits the story. I'm just not sure I liked the ending, however inevitable I knew it would be. You also should be the judge.

    13 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 4, 2011

    Read Middlesex, skip this one.

    I read the authors first book, Middlesex. It was a great book, this one however is nowhere near that. Boring, don't care about the characters at all. I was listening to the audio book and while the narrator was fine, I actually stopped listening. I have only not finished a couple of books that I have read and this one was so bad I had no interest in continuing. Skip it but I highly recommend Middlesex.

    9 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 13, 2011

    One of the more interesting books I've picked up.

    At least lately. Without giving too much away, this book and its characters were amazingly well-written. The three dimensional characters made each page impossible to be the last one, that is until the very last, at which point I had no choice.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    amazingly boring

    I never read Middlesex but heard enough raves to get the new book everyone seems to have been waiting for. I found The Marriage Plot incredibly boring despite being a fast read. The characters are all especially unlikable and whiny. While I am glad I read this book and can share my viewpoint with friends over drinks when Eugenides comes up, I will most likely not be reading anything else of his.

    8 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Totally recommend this- excellent read

    The writing was tastefully and beautifully executed, I felt as if I read only one page by time I ended. It held everything I like, plot was believeable, the dialogue intensely satisfying, and the characters were three dimensional. All in all= a great tale, good job Eugenides! Also recommending - The Help Also recommending - The Chateau The Help - the book is so much better than the movie- loved it. The Chateau - Fantastic dialogue, great characters - beautifully written

    7 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 23, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    great

    I enjoyed reading this at work. Very good, would recommend it

    7 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 8, 2012

    Not worth the time

    This is the first Jeffrey Eugenides book I have read. I was interested in reading it for a couple of reasons. One, was the title and author's resume, and the other was that the characters graduated from college the same year that I did.
    What I discovered, however, was that the characters were self-obsorbed and therefore, completely unattractive.
    I was unable to connect with them on most every level. They made life more difficult than it needed to be, which some may say makes a good story. Not so for me.
    I kept hoping they would "snap out of it", and see the light, but their struggles remained agonizing. Very disappointing story.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2011

    Ugh

    Bad bad bad bad bad

    5 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Angst-ridden smart folks trying to figure it out.

    The Marriage Plot is this big, bold forray into what it’s like to be young with options. Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell are all graduating from Brown. It’s the early 80′s and their lives are just beginning to swing into the unknown. Madeleine, an English major, knows that grad school is in her future, but now that she’s fallen in love with Leonard, who has his own baggage in the form of manic-depression, she’s trying to fit it all in and find a balance.

    Mitchell, who never truly connected with Madeleine, has it in his head that she’s the mate for him and is a tiny bit obsessed with her. He is always on the outside, looking in and can’t understand Madeleine’s desire to be with Leonard. As Madeleine follows Leonard to Cape Cod for an internship, Mitchell travels around the world to pursue his interest in religion, but more importantly, to get Maddie out of his head. Although the story plods along at an incredibly slow pace, I couldn’t help but get swept up in the “bigness” of it. I was in college in the late 80′s and Eugenides nailed 80′s college life and I mean, NAILED it. You’ve got your academic life taking up most of your time but then… then there is this other half of you that is going out and meeting people. Often, one person turns out to be more than a friend and then all of sudden life shifts and you are thinking of marriage and the white picket fence. Maybe.

    The Marriage Plot is all about that time. That time where you feel as if you have all these options, yet have no idea where you’ll really end up. It’s about figuring out what you really want and realizing that the decisions you make today, could affect you for the rest of your life. As Madeleine studies romances of the past, she realizes that history does not have to repeat itself.

    I love angst and there is plenty of it contained within these pages to last you a lifetime. Did I love the characters? No. I often found myself frustrated by their inability to take things in, but were they real to me? Most definitely. Leonard, who suffers manic-depression throughout the novel was probably my favorite of the characters because he was so flawed yet there were times where he was completely lucid. During these times, I saw his brilliance and how a girl like Maddie could fall in love with him.

    Overall, this is not a book that will wow you with its plot. It’s not a page-turner but instead a quiet, introspective look at relationships and if you are a book lover (who isn’t?) then you will love this book for the bookish references peppered throughout the story. I had an easy time picking this one up and putting it down. It’s the type of book you can easily dip in and out of but every time I put it down, I found myself thinking about my own college years.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2013

    Middle school material

    Apart from some superfluous "adult" situations, this a story you'd expect to capture the attention of a middle schooler. Unimaginative plot, weak character development. So why bother.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2012

    Not Eugenides Strongest Work

    I was thrilled to see a new book out from one of my favorite novelists. The opening was very strong and I found myself falling back into the mental mode of university. The back and forth between characters really worked, but then Leonard's voice appears and I almost immediately lost interest. It took me ages to get through Leonard's side and I eventually lost touch with the characters. I wasn't cheering for anyone by the end.

    After finally finishing, I feel a bit underwhelmed by the novel as a whole. I give immense props for all the research on back stories and side stories that went into this novel (yeast research?!), but I don't see myself recommending it to others.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2012

    Too scholarly but written well

    The book started off slow and often lost me when it came to Mitchell's religious studies and Leonard's scientific talk, but I found Maddy's English aspects wonderful and I was captivated by the things Mitchell came across during his travels. The book is not horribly written and I am happy that I read it and, though I will most likely not read it again in its entirety, I will most likely reference it from time to time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 27, 2012

    Wow, this book!

    I was very impressed by this book. Eugenides has created a fresh and modern love story set in a semi-modern time period to be experienced by all. It follows a series of three interwoven and wonderful characters through the ecstatic highs and devastating lows of love and life, provoking questions in us all that will leave you re-evaluating much of what you've learned about the puzzle of life's relationships alongside the characters, who are wholly unprepared for the life ahead of them after leaving college and family behind as they begin their adult lives. Their trials and discoveries, along with their ups and downs are remarkably moving and at times it seemed like Eugenides took a page or two from your own mind- he touches the intangible in parts of this book, with descriptions and passages that I had no choice but to highlight and mark up. It's description of University life is captivating, and it's dive into the intricate and terrible web of a man's depression will leave you breathless. I can see why it's more of a critical darling than beloved by fans, but I'd highly recommend it just to experience a stunning modern love story that will affect you in ways you'd be shocked that a book could.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2012

    Would highly recommend

    Ive read some of the other reviews and the negative ones have one thing in commom...negative feelings about the characters. If that is the case, then the author did his job. Yes they were whiny and self-centered but weren't we all at that age? I thought the book was well written and funny. I learned about love, faith, marriage, and writing in 3 days. I couldnt put it down.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2012

    Slow read

    This book was a slow read. Unfortunately if you thought it would be more on the Jane Austin side of things, you would be wrong. Much of the literature mentioned I had not read. As such it was less appealing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2012

    More or less of a let down

    I felt that this novel was a persistent wind-up with a dissatisfactory resolution. It had its moments but overall I was disappointed with the ending.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2012

    No thanks

    I think this book would be great if you loved classic literature. Personally I feel the book was simply a handful of run in sentences. I wouldn't read it again, therefore I do not recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2012

    Horrible

    The stories of the two male characters were very interesting but the book as a whole was a waste. I abhorred the female character and didnot appreciate the author's writing style.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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