Sunday, October 23, 2011
192. the MARRIAGE PLOT
The Book Jacket Blurb:
It's the early 1980's -- the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafe of College Hill, 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 tries to understand why "it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth-century France," real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead -- charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy -- suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old "friend" Mitchell Grammaticus -- who's been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange -- resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.
Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology laboratory in Cape Cod, but can't escape the secret responsible for Leonard's seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.
Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding and understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it read like the intimate journal of our own lives.
What Hooked Me:
I finished reading this book a few days ago, and equally pondered as many days on what rating I would give it. I knew I liked it a lot. I was not sure I loved it. Having just posted Middlemarch a few weeks ago, a book which impressed me exactly as a book that explored the various facets of marriage, I found the depiction of the contemporary marriages in this book much more difficult and sad. And marriage as a plot seemed secondary to the three major characters' search for themselves and their paths shortly after graduating from college. In the end, the book won me over for its marvelous writing and not its plot. I continue to love the way the author gently forces me to take my time and read each word, just so I don't get lost when he mentions and expounds on it a few chapters later. I also love that this book has encouraged me to put the book, A Lover's Discourse, on my TBR.
'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 Bronte sisters.'(opening lines)
'She's become an English major for the purest and dullest reasons: because she loved to read. The University's British and American Literature Course Catalog" was, for Madeleine, what its Bergdorf equivalent was for her roommates. A course listing like "English 274: Lyly's Euphues" excited Madeleine the way a pair of Fiorucci cowboy boots did Abby. "English 405A: Hawthorne and James" filled Madeleine with an expectation of sinful hours in bed not unlike what Olivia got from wearing Lycra skirt and leather blazer to Danceteria. ... And yet sometimes she worried about what those musty old books were doing to her.'(20-21)
'Books aren't about 'real life.' Books are about other books.'(28)
'My theory is that the problem Handke was trying to solve here, from a literary standpoint, was how do you write about something, even something real and painful -- like suicide -- when all of the writing that's been done on that subject has robbed you of any originality of expression?'(28)
'Whereas Madeleine was perfectly happy with the idea of genius. She wanted a book to take her places she couldn't get to herself. She thought a writer should work harder writing a book than she did reading it.'(42)
'And it was during this period that Madeleine fully understood how the lover's discourse was of an extreme solitude. The solitude was extreme because you felt it while in the company of the person you loved. It was extreme because it was in your head, that most solitary of places.'(65)
'A Lover's Discourse was the perfect cure for lovesickness. It was a repair manual for the heart, it's one tool the brain. If you used your head, if you become aware of how love was culturally constructed and began to see your symptoms as purely mental, if you recognized that being "in love" was only an idea, then you could liberate yourself from it's tyranny.'(79)
'People don't save other people. People save themselves.'(124)
"It's a funny thing. You're born in America. You grow up and what do they tell you? They tell you that you have a right to the pursuit of happiness. And that the way to be happy is to get a lot of nice stuff, right? I did all that. Had a house, a job, a boyfriend. But I wasn't happy. I wasn't happy because all I did was think about myself. I thought that the world revolved around me. But guess what? It doesn't."(215)
'That was when Leonard realized something crucial about depression. The smarter you were, the worse it was. The sharper your brain, the more it cut you up.'(254)
'As he answered the doctor's questions, Leonard felt as though he were being interrogated for a crime. He tried, when he could, to tell the truth, but when the truth didn't serve his cause he embellished it, interpreting it as either favorable or unfavorable, and shifting his next response accordingly. Often he had the impression that the person answering questions from the scratchy armchair was a dummy he was controlling, that this has been true throughout his life, and that his life had become so involved with operating the dummy that he, the ventriloquist, had ceased to have a personality, becoming just an arm stuffed up the puppet's back.'(255)
'One thing I learned, between addiction and depression? Depression a lot worse. Depression ain't something you just get off of. You can't get clean from depression. Depression be like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise in your mind. You just got to be careful not to touch where it hurts. It always be there, though.'(259-260)
'The worst part was that, as the years passed, these memories became, in the way you kept them in a secret box in your head, taking them out every so often to turn them over and over, something like dear possessions. They were the key to your unhappiness. They were the evidence that life wasn't fair. If you weren't a lucky child, you didn't know you weren't lucky until you got older. And then it was all you ever thought about.'(283)
'When you talked about marriage (I mean in the abstract) you had a theory that people got married in one of three stages. Stage One are the traditional people who marry their college sweethearts, usually the summer after graduation. People in Stage Two get married around 28. And then there are the people in Stage Three who get married in a final wave, with a sense of desperation, around 36, 37, or even 39.'(324-325)
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, First Edition
Book qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge