For other thoughts on this book, the Monkees and how it all relates to Giacommo Puccini, read my independent blog: The Scruffy Rube.
More and more writers want to have a little something to satisfy everyone.
Jeffrey Eugenides (on the other hand) makes a meal out of not satisfying everyone. Satisfaction, after all, is entirely within the perception of the individual. Happiness, true rapturous happiness, is something reserved for the “happily ever after” endings of fairy tales and romance novels. And therein lies the focus of his most recent work: The Marriage Plot.
Take those peppy, cheery, “and everyone got married and had a wonderful life” stories from the late 18th century and plop it down on top of 1980s American uncertainty. Would Lizzie Bennett really want to find her way into Mr. Darcy’s arms, if employment were a viable option for a young woman? Would Heathcliffe wander the moors–woefully disconsolate–when he could just as easily go to a singles bar?
Eugenides knows the answer (I suspect that 98% of anyone reading this review does too), but he still drags us along through 406 pages of characters discovering what the Monkees once sang and we have all long suspected: “Love was only true in fairy tales”. That’s where Madeleine Hanna, directionless post-grad, wants to live: amid the fairy tale romances of the Brontes, Austens and Eliots of the literary canon. She makes a convenient female protagonist and even has to choose between two distinctive suitors: the Heathcliffian tortured soul (now rightly diagnosed as manic-depressive) Leonard Bankhead, and the aloof, Edmund Bertram (the beloved man of Mansfield Park) stand-in: Mitchell Grammaticus. In the end, Madeleine must decide whether to perpetuate this mash-up of archaic literary living, or to step out into the brave new world of empowered-women and independent living.
I appreciate the mash-up, I do. I appreciate the analysis, the brutal frankness, the irredeemable humanity of our three main characters. But I’m an Austen fan. I’m a romance/true love fan. Heck, I’m a Monkees fan. And though Eugendies presents a solid story to support his argument (one that fans of his writing or cynics of romance will undoubtedly enjoy), I want characters to find satisfaction both in themselves and in true love! I want them to see a face…and become believers.