Books by State: Rhode Island

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

“It’s the early 1980s. In American colleges, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes—the charismatic and intense Leonard Bankhead, and her old friend the mystically inclined Mitchell Grammaticus. As all three of them face life in the real world they will have to reevaluate everything they have learned.” — Amazon’s summary.

I should probably mention that only the bits where they are at the college are in Rhode Island. Madeleine and Leonard end up in Massachusetts and New Jersey for a time. Mitchell travels to Paris, Greece, and around India. Near the end, they are in New York for a short time. So, it’s not solely Rhode Island, but I chose this book because it’s something I don’t normally read – I wanted to test myself a bit I suppose. It was a struggle for me at times. I’m just not really into straight drama, slice-of-life novels, though there have been a few I’ve liked. So, I guess the main trouble I had with this one was that I didn’t really like any of the characters. Right from the start, Madeleine struck me as a selfish, entitled, high-society princess with a superiority complex, and I kept that opinion throughout most of the story. I felt much the same way about Mitchell. He came up with this idea that he would marry Madeleine and didn’t ever seem to care about what her goals were or if she felt the same way about him. He wasn’t given what he wanted and becomes bitter and stays that way right up to the end. He is the definition of a “nice guy.” The guy that always complains that girls only like guys that treat them like shit and therefore don’t like him because he’s just “too nice” (even though he actually really isn’t all that nice and objectifies women A LOT and gets pissy when rejected or called out for his misogynistic traits). Leonard on the other hand I had mixed feelings about. Leonard at least had an excuse for his less endearing traits – he is a manic-depressive. The things he does and says while manic are often upsetting, but it is his mental illness driving him so I feel like I was a bit more lenient with him. Though, he does do some things that I wouldn’t condone even given his mental illness (i.e. forcibly kissing an underage girl).

There’s not much I feel like I need to say about this one. It didn’t leave me with a message or anything like that. It was simply a story about relationship mishaps that could very well happen in everyday life. It’s no stretch of the imagination to believe the events in this story are completely true to life. The characters, though I found them mostly disagreeable, are extremely human; there’s no grandiose aspects to the characters or the things that happen to them. They are just kids recently out of college trying to figure their shit out. And honestly, even though I said I didn’t really like any of them, they aren’t doing that bad of a job.

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