The Marriage Plot

Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

3 of 7
The Marriage Plot
416 pages; Farrar, Straus and Giroux
It's the Reagan years, and the hypereducated students at Brown University in Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marriage Plot (FSG) are hungry for revolutionary ideas to replace the "wholesome, patriotic" values of their parents' generation. But while her peers are devouring the work of antitraditionalist, postmodern thinkers, Madeleine, an English major, finds herself drawn to the retro likes of Jane Austen and George Eliot—authors whose novels end with weddings and the triumph of true love. Madeleine's 20th-century reality proves more complicated. She's in love with Leonard, a charismatic, troubled biology and philosophy major, with whom she spends her first year after graduation in fitful cohabitation. Meanwhile, her sort-of-platonic friend, Mitchell, travels to the ends of the Earth—or at least to Calcutta—trying to forget her. The players in this love triangle are too precocious and well-read for their own good, but not immune to the youthful need to experience every painful emotion—"of craving, of wanting, of hoping, of losing"—to feel truly alive. In his first novel since the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex, Eugenides, himself a Brown graduate of the period, brilliantly captures that early-20s ache—the angst that comes with shedding collegiate ideals and diving into adulthood. A love story that's at once conventional and lightly subversive, The Marriage Plot is a fresh, smart twist on the timeless romantic comedy. 
— Stephan Lee