I have been fortunate enough to read some really, really, really good books lately. And The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides goes right at the tippy top of this list. What a delight! This book was absolutely an English major’s dream come true. Loved, loved, loved every single second of it.
Because: I have never seen myself so perfectly explained. Some people majored in English to prepare for law school. Others became journalists. The smartest guy in the honors program…was planning on getting a Ph.D. and becoming an academic himself. That left a large contingent of people majoring in English by default. Because they weren’t left-brained enough for science, because history was too dry, philosophy too difficult, geology too petroleum-oriented, and math too mathematical–because they weren’t musical, artistic, financially motivated, or really all that smart, these people were pursuing university degrees doing something no different from what they’d done in first grade: reading stories. English was what people who didn’t know what to major in majored in. [Although I take issue with some portions of this, it was too perfect not to include in its entirety. Not that there isn’t some (okay, a lot of) truth here. But me, really, I became an English major “for the purest and dullest of reasons” [this also from the book]: because I love to read! ].
And who hasn’t contemplated moving back to their parents’ house, back to their old room, to “become a spinster, like Emily Dickinson, writing poems full of dashes and brilliance, and never gaining weight”? Or wondered why time goes faster as you get older? (it’s proportional, that’s why).
Or why “[h]eartbreak is funny to everyone but the heartbroken”? My favorite thing about a book is when you can see yourself in it, or see a thought you have had and held dearly, articulated on the page (which yes, I have said here before. But I don’t care, it’s true). As with:
It was impossible to be friends with guys. Every guy she’d ever been friends with had ended up wanting something else, or had wanted something else from the beginning, and had been friends only under false pretenses.
Truer words were never spoken, and I will fight anyone to the death on this point. If you think he “just wants to be friends,” you are kidding yourself. He has thought about you naked. Deal with it!
Also: It was probably true that he objectified women. He thought about them all the time, didn’t he? He looked at them a lot. And didn’t all this thinking and looking involve their breasts and lips and legs? Female human beings were objects of the most intense interest and scrutiny on [his] part. And yet he didn’t think that a word like objectification covered the way these alluring–but intelligent!–creatures made him feel. What [he] felt when he saw a beautiful girl was more like something from a Greek myth, like being transformed, by the sight of beauty, into a tree, rooted on the spot, forever, out of pure desire. You couldn’t feel about an object the way [he] felt about girls.
And every letter really is a love letter.
And it can be attractive to think you can save someone by loving them. And other dynamics too familiar and intimate to attempt to re-articulate. As is so often the case, with a really good book, I feel like I couldn’t ever tell anyone what the book was “about” without cheapening it. And that is certainly the case here.
Also, I feel it only fair to point out that, though I loved this book, that doesn’t mean that it made me happy, or feel good, or give me any warm fuzzies. Quite the opposite, actually, sometimes. But it is an experience. So if you love books, or were an English major, or appreciate love stories with not-necessarily traditional story-lines, or want to get to know me better, please read it, and then tell me what you think. Eugenides is a gifted writer. I read The Virgin Suicides, my first of his, and loved it, over ten years ago. I wish I would have read other works of his sooner. But I am happy to make amends now. Happy reading!