From the Nightstand – The Marriage Plot

*Author’s note: So I felt a little bad about the review below, and Jeffrey Eugenides came to me in a dream last night and tried to beat me up and said that he was going to eat my face off (someone actually said that to me and some friends at a Willy Nelson concert… I know I know… Willy Nelson. WTF. But get off his back! Willy rules…) and he was really pissed and even shed a tear because I kinda trashed his new book… so I thought that I would preface my first review with an amended one…
Here it is. The Marriage Plot would be an amazing book, but I don’t think that it ever fully reached its potential… almost like it’s not quite done…
I think the subject matter was intriguing. Spirituality. Marriage. Depression. All fascinating topics that I often think about… honestly… I really do… it’s just that I don’t think that the idea in the book fully matured. Does that make sense? Sounds like I’m talking about wine… or elderly porn. Is there such thing as elderly porn? Ew… I need a shower… ew… no I don’t…
Back to my review…

Let me start this little article by saying that I think that Jeffrey Eugenides (and I cannot spell his name right twice in a row… try it… it’s freakin hard!) is one of the best modern authors. Period! Middlesex is probably in my top 5 books of all time. The Virgin Suicides an amazingly good read. Maybe this opening bit is an apology: Please Mr. Eugenides, don’t read this review, because I just didn’t like your new book.

So I’ve gotten that off my chest…

When I saw that Eugenides had a new (ish) book out, I was more than prepared to fan out and write him a glowing love letter about how his new (ish) book was awesome and life changing… but then I read it… and uh… hmmm… hopefully I didn’t send that fan mail just yet.

The problem from the start was the fact that this book was published in 2011. That’s last year. How the hell didn’t I hear about one of my favorite authors publishing a new book? Did I not have internet access for a year? No. Did I get lost in Wallmart and live on sour keys and Pringles for a long time? Nope.
How the hell did I miss this? Did I not see it because it wasn’t well received? Destined for discount tables at the mall bookstores? Apparently not from the reviews I’ve read.
So what happened?

When I finally got my hands on his book, I was all fired up and excited and heading out on vacation where the only things to do were read, drink, eat, swim, read, drink, eat, sleep, read, drink drink… you get the picture right?! A perfect storm for reading and loving a story.
Right?!

On a poolside chair, one of those super comfy ones (not plastic that sticks to your skin and leaves lines like prison stripes, so you can’t blame the poolside furniture on this m’eh-ish review), I started reading. And then I put it down. Picked it up again. Put it down. Re-read the first chapter again. Saw a couple really well crafted sentences. Looked for more. Put the book down. Went shopping…

From the start, The Marriage Plot toyed with me. Like cat and mouse kind of toying. I would get so precariously close to being interested with the characters, but then Eugenides’s writing would get all clunky and methodical and I’d withdraw and start wondering if I actually gave a shit about them and forgot about them until they came back into the picture later on.
The Marriage Plot is centered around a few grand ideas. God. Marriage. Mental Health. Heavy stuff and subjects that seemed more stapled together instead of blending together seamlessly. These topics awkwardly overshadow the light topic of a love triangle that involves main characters Madeline, Leonard and Mitchell, three students graduating from Brown University that should know better to be in such a triangle that is more annoying than engaging. Like frustrating foreplay, like in a basement when you’re 14 and not sure what exactly you’re touching…
Anyway… Madeline is a literature grad that struggles with the thought of marriage and saving her boyfriend. Mitchell is a wanderer who runs from Madeline and instead falls into a search if God is real or not. Leonard is a manic depressive genius who is loved by Madeline but eventually disappears into the night.
That’s the book in a nutshell. Add some serious contemplation of spirituality here and there. Whether marriage is antiquated or not… Blah Blah blah…

The problem I have with this book is that I’m just not convinced that I cared about the story, or if it’s very well written, even though the New York Times says it is, along with many other professional reviewers (which I’m not and am fully aware that this review probably blows), but I just disagree with the reviews. The story is predictable. I always knew where it was going. The prose of his other books is missing. Sometimes surfaces but it predominantly missing. The language was at times hard slogging. There was nothing that made me want to read until 3AM. No “Obscure Object”, no awkward dance in the basement. Nothing. No characters that I just fell in love with.
Nothing.
Making it the first Eugenides book that I probably won’t re-read.

(Ok ok… the actual truth is that I’m mad at Eugenides because he used the Pilgrim’s Prayer as part of this book (borrowed from Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.)
I’ve been wanting to use it in a story for years and years… and now he’s used it and I’m all “fuck man… really… you used the Pilgrim’s Prayer… I was so going to use that and now I’m gonna have to make up something that is similar but not exactly the same and then people are going to be all “he fuckin stole that from Eugenides and Salinger… what an asshole.. I hate him”… “, and then I just read that last line, and feel bad because I swore in the same sentence as mentioning the Pilgrim’s Prayer, and now I feel guilty and am probably going to spend eternity in obscurity… way to go Eugenides!)

So… In a nutshell… I hope the next book is awesome again, because I still love Jeffrey Eugenides a lot!
Just not this book.

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