Tag Archives: Literature

Review: The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot


The Marriage Plot
By Jeffrey Eugenides
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374203054, October 2011, 416pp.)

The Short of It:

Angst-ridden smart folks trying to figure it out.

The Rest of It:

The Marriage Plot is this big, bold forray into what it’s like to be young with options. Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell are all graduating from Brown. It’s the early 80’s and their lives are just beginning to swing into the unknown. Madeleine, an English major, knows that grad school is in her future, but now that she’s fallen in love with Leonard, who has his own baggage in the form of manic-depression, she’s trying to fit it all in and find a balance.

Mitchell, who never truly connected with Madeleine, has it in his head that she’s the mate for him and is a tiny bit obsessed with her. He is always on the outside, looking in and can’t understand Madeleine’s desire to be with Leonard. As Madeleine follows Leonard to Cape Cod for an internship, Mitchell travels around the world to pursue his interest in religion, but more importantly, to get Maddie out of his head.

Although the story plods along at an incredibly slow pace, I couldn’t help but get swept up in the “bigness” of it. I was in college in the late 80’s and Eugenides nailed 80’s college life and I mean, NAILED it. You’ve got your academic life taking up most of your time but then… then there is this other half of you that is going out and meeting people. Often, one person turns out to be more than a friend and then all of sudden life shifts and you are thinking of marriage and the white picket fence. Maybe.

The Marriage Plot is all about that time. That time where you feel as if you have all these options, yet have no idea where you’ll really end up. It’s about figuring out what you really want and realizing that the decisions you make today, could affect you for the rest of your life. As Madeleine studies romances of the past, she realizes that history does not have to repeat itself.

I love angst and there is plenty of it contained within these pages to last you a lifetime. Did I love the characters? No. I often found myself frustrated by their inability to take things in, but were they real to me? Most definitely. Leonard, who suffers manic-depression throughout the novel was probably my favorite of the characters because he was so flawed yet there were times where he was completely lucid. During these times, I saw his brilliance and how a girl like Maddie could fall in love with him.

Overall, this is not a book that will wow you with its plot. It’s not a page-turner but instead a quiet, introspective look at relationships and if you are a book lover (who isn’t?) then you will love this book for the bookish references peppered throughout the story. I had an easy time picking this one up and putting it down. It’s the type of book you can easily dip in and out of but every time I put it down, I found myself thinking about my own college years.

Note from Ti: This book is very different from Middlesex so you really can’t compare the two. If you go into this one hoping for another Middlesex then you’ll be disappointed.

Source: Borrowed
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Review: Pearl of China

Pearl of China

Pearl of China
By Anchee Min
(Bloomsbury USA, Paperback, 9781608193127, March 2011, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

Interesting premise but poorly executed.

The Rest of It:

It is the end of the nineteenth century and China is riding on the crest of great change, but for nine-year-old Willow, the only child of a destitute family in the small southern town of Chin-kiang, nothing ever seems to change. Until the day she meets Pearl, the eldest daughter of a zealous American missionary.

The “Pearl” referenced in that blurb is Pearl S. Buck, author of The Good Earth and numerous other novels. The story follows the lives of Willow and Pearl. This includes their marriages to horrible men, Willow’s imprisonment over refusing to denounce Pearl’s work, and Pearl’s rise as a writer. Some of the novel is based on fact, but the friendship itself is total fiction, which I was disappointed to learn.

The historical bits about Mao’s Red Revolution and particularly the bits about his wife, were fascinating but not fleshed out. There were numerous gaps in the storyline. In real life, Pearl was a visionary. Highly revered for her humanitarian efforts yet in the story, her life almost took a backseat to Willow’s. Min was forced to denounce Buck’s work so perhaps this book was her way of paying homage to the writer. I’m not sure she succeeded, but what she did do was make me want to read The Good Earth.

In additional to the gaps in storyline, the writing itself  is a classic example of “telling” and not “showing.” Min tells you all about these horrible marriages yet she shares nothing about them. I never get a feel for the situation that these women are in. Even the imprisonment, which I’m sure would have been a harrowing experience for anyone, is glossed over with just a few sentences telling us how horrible it was.

Pearl of China was my book club’s pick for July. What could have been a fabulous read, ended up being a thin outline of historical facts with a underdeveloped story thrown in for good measure. I can’t recommend this book, although it did provide quite a bit for us to discuss at our meeting.

Source: Borrowed.

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