Jeffrey Eugenides
The Marriage Plot

A Sad Review by a Fan

by Kathy Coogan

I heard that Jeffrey Eugenides had a new book titled The Marriage Plot. Almost simultaneously, my daughter who lives in another state, called to tell me that she had heard him interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR.

Carrie and I both mimic Terry Gross’s nasal, back of the throat, annoying voice but love her access to writers. Terry is a small price to pay for behind-the-scenes author stories.

I ordered the book and paid rush delivery prices so I could read it then send it to daughter Carrie a.s.a.p. I imagined the great long distance conversation we would have, like those we shared after reading Middlesex, our mutually favorite book. This would be a book to share, not a selfish Kindle, available to only me.

The Marriage Plot arrived on time and I savored the time from receipt of it until an early bedtime when I would crawl under the covers and inhale it. I announced my intentions to my husband who was watching a Criminal Minds marathon.

I read fifty pages. I reread several, sure that I had missed something. I felt a little like a mother who has heard her child diligently, proficiently practicing Ode to Joy on the upright in the living room, only to hear Odor to Joy on the baby grand at the recital.

I was disappointed. Where were the engaging characters? Madeleine – the shallow spoiled brat - who would aspire to or compete for her? Leonard – neurotic, deluded, in need of a shower. Mitchell -insecure but arrogant, selfish, pseudo-or-actual-intellectual-but-who-cares? This story was a triangle in theory but a square in practice. How could a simple reader not from the Seven Sisters enjoy this book?

Where was the plot? Here I struggle to summarize. While his title suggests the thesis, The Marriage Plot, 1982 fails to be a suitable incubator for it. Marriage is not the problem. There were many couples marrying, or not marrying, for whatever reasons, in 1982.

Women’s Lib, and all the other eighty-isms as described by the author, have never been so boring, even contemporaneously. I hate to say it, but Jane Austin, Jeffrey is not, and lots of pretty sentences strung together in a book, does not a book make.

Jeffrey Eugenides was a genius at exploring and representing a fictional hermaphrodite, both Cal and Calliope, with compassion and clarity. I hated for Middlesex to end, knowing I would miss my new friends.

How could Jeffrey enliven Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell? Sometimes the characters are just too ordinary. It was not his fault, Jeffrey’s, no one could have done better with these characters or this plot. Oh. That's right. He is the author therefore he created them. I wonder why? Some characters are just too boring for words, no matter the skill and the singing prose of the author.

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