REVIEW: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides
FSG
416 pp / $28

In the weeks since its release, Jeffrey Eugenides’s latest novel, The Marriage Plot, has been basking in the glow of a warm welcome. Attention for the book (there’s even a sexpot billboard in Times Square) is well placed: Between The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, Eugenides is one of the most impressive and important novelists working today. It’s exciting to see a literary superstar treated at least as well as a reality television star.

But there’s not much left to say about the book. One feels a bit like a college senior, out of her league in Semiotics 101. So, because The Marriage Plot is a book about other books, here’s a review of other reviews:

Mitchiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Looking for Love, by the Book”

Expectations: Kakutani loved Eugenides’s debut, The Virgin Suicides, with an uncharacteristic fervor. This is a very different book. Willing to bet she’ll be disappointed.

Actuality: She’s disappointed.

Most valuable sentence: “This novel carefully uses cultural references to conjure the 1980s, that era when hipsters wore Fiorucci cowboy boots and well-to-do parents outfitted their cosseted offspring with Trinitron TVs and Saab convertibles.”

Emily Cooke, N+1
“Stuck in the Stacks”

Expectations: Very exciting: The N+1 editorial board adores Baudrillard, one of the bêtes noires of this book. Possible smack-down?

Actuality: Smart and dead-on.

Most valuable sentence: “If The Marriage Plot is explicitly about other books and obvious in its engagement of tropes, can it then be more about ‘real life’ than it would be otherwise? Real life after all includes the lives of people who put ‘real life’ in quotes.”

Evan Hughes, New York Magazine
“Just Kids: Is ‘The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides Based in Reality?”

Expectations: Great, a reprise of how a character in the book wears a bandanna just like David Foster Wallace. Large photo of David Foster Wallace at the top of the article confirms suspicions.it.

Actuality: Fabulous, gossipy history of the intersecting lives of Wallace, Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Mary Karr, and others. (And the super-hot page-two photo of Eugenides ’96 puts the Times Square billboard to shame).

Best sentence: “It’s the latest salvo… in the debate that has occupied Eugenides’s generation for 25 years, about what exactly fiction is for and how a crew of literary newcomers might revive the American novel, which seemed to many of them in danger of irrelevance. The Marriage Plot invites us back to that era when the author and his contemporaries were just starting to rewire their aspirations.”

All Things Considered, NPR
“Eugenides Spins A Modern Kind Of ‘Marriage Plot’

Expectations: It’s NPR.

Actuality: A friendly interview, bookended by a charming review that’s smart without showing off. It’s NPR.

Best Sentence: “I left out the fact that Mother Teresa and I briefly dated,” Eugenides jokes. “So if I was actually going to tell the real autobiographical story, it would be somewhat different.”

The consensus?

Read The Marriage Plot. You might miss the epic sweep and the weirdness of Middlesex, or the heart-stopping prose and weirdness of The Virgin Suicides. But if you in any way enjoy beauty and life and love and the power of literature to make these things important, you’ll get a kick out of the humor and narrative grace of the book.

And if you don’t like those things, then perhaps you will enjoy this video of a terrified cat.

Editor’s note: Want to win a free audiobook of The Marriage Plot from MacMillan Audio? Tweet at @electriclit with the hashtag #criticalhit and a link to your favorite book review printed in October. Check out the Critical Hit Awards for more details.

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— K. Reed Petty is a writer from maryland. You can follow her on twitter @pettykate.

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