Literature for the Lit-Obsessed
We may have patiently waited nine years for a new novel from Jeffrey Eugenides, the Greek-American author whose works tend to (rightfully) inspire fanatic devotion from critics and casual readers alike. But we won’t have to wait nearly as long to learn more about his latest work: this Thursday, he’s visiting BookPeople to celebrate the release of his new, highly acclaimed effort.
Eugenides' debut novel, The Virgin Suicides (published in 1993), is an incredibly beautiful portrait of adolescent ennui that’s pitch-perfect and relatable. Sofia Coppola’s 1999 film adaptation has a dreamy, slightly fuzzy aesthetic that brings Eugenides’ original text to life so fittingly the film tops many lit critics lists of best book-to-screen scripts. Over a decade in the making, his follow-up novel Middlesex earned immediate acclaim, winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and highlighting even further Eugenides’ knack for crafting female characters with depth and intelligence.
The Marriage Plot reflects this talent well, introducing us to a trio of friends whose complex relationships center around the alluring Madeleine Hanna. Set at Brown University (and, at various points, on Cape Cod and across a tour of European cities) in the 1980s, the novel focuses on both the academic and emotional interests of our highly literate, yet socially confused, antagonists. We follow Madeleine, a restless lover of Austen and Barthes, as she becomes involved with Leonard, a brilliant but volatile scientist-philosopher battling increasingly intense bouts of debilitating depression. As the pair graduate and grapple with the reality of their future together, Madeleine’s old friend Mitchell—who has silently endured a deep, unrequired love for years—tours Europe, living monastically while immersing himself in religious philosophy to escape his hurt feelings.
While typical tropes of the post-grad novel are present—adapting to life without a safety net, struggling to define personal goals and standards—The Marriage Plot isn’t a youthful, predictable story of self-discovery. His characters have depth, and their joys and failures aren’t simply listed but explored with acute tenderness. The Marriage Plot is also an incredibly academic novel; Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell are enthusiastically literate, their conversations and inner monologues peppered with casual references to Derrida and Lacan. A crucial moment in Madeleine and Leonard’s relationship is defined by an argument on the intrinsic meaning of the word “love,” our heroine heartbroken by a conflict over linguistics. The scores of textual references woven into the novel might not be terribly accessible, but they shine like gems for readers who have similarly found comfort in philosophy and language.
Eugenides’ latest work is both vastly different from, and comfortingly similar to his past books. Exploring lives by focusing on seemingly unremarkable details, Eugenides paints vivid worlds: both in the minds of his characters, and the worlds they inhabit. The Marriage Plot is a beautiful novel—I’d even go so far as saying it’s “swoon-worthy.”
If you’re not familiar with Jeffrey Eugenides’ work, here are a few great ways to get acquainted:
Two excerpts from The Marriage Plot, published in The New Yorker, give a taste of the novel’s depth.
Recently published in New York Magazine, this exploration of the late 80s “anti-brat pack” of writers that includes Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace sheds some light on the writers’ backgrounds and inspirations.
This 2002 interview, originally printed in Bomb Magazine, is more a conversation between two of our most fascinating contemporary writers than a simple Q&A.
Jeffrey Eugenides will be visiting BookPeople to read from The Marriage Plot this Thursday, October 27th at 7 pm.