Monday, January 16, 2012

The Marriage Plot: My take on the book by Jeffrey Eugenides

I finished The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides not quite being sure what I thought and felt. This book, written by the writer of the Pulitzer Prize winning Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides, has been on a ton of Best of 2011 lists. And having heard this was going to be made into the film, I was eager to read it, eager to like it. It starts out promisingly enough, three young people on the verge of graduating from their ivy league school. A bright and beautiful young English major, Madeleine Hanna, who is working on her senior thesis vis a vis, Jane Austen, George Eliot and the "marriage plot" at the heart of many an old english novel.  The handsome, charismatic scientist Leonard that she becomes erotically and emotionally entangled with.  And Mitchell Grammaticus, thoughtful, sensitive, obsessed with Madeleine; looking for love and looking for God.  A perfect love triange. What's not to love.
I liked this book a lot. I didn't love it. Maybe I was in the mood for something less messy, less life-like, more escapist. A love story that resolves itself the way those 'marriage plot' books do.
Yes the road to true love is difficult and marred with obstacles but alls well that ends well.
But that's not The Marriage Plot.
Instead I was frustrated with these characters and Eugenides for giving them life. I really related to Madeleine but was irritated that she couldn't see what a great guy Mitchell was. And I was irritated with Mitchell; come on, I wanted to shout at him DO SOMETHING! But of course, she's attracted to Leonard who is completely self-absorbed and isn't that attractive? Mitchell takes off on a round the world spiritual quest, Madeleine and Leonard move in together.

Casting Suggestion: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Mitchell
I didn't enjoy reading about Leonard's downward spiral. I didn't enjoy the armchair trip I was forced to go on with Mitchell to India. I wished that Eugenides could have given me the pat romance I was looking for. Instead it was a complicated story of friendship, love, frustration, mental illness, spirituality, growth and self-awareness. The characters were very well drawn out, if anything too much so. I couldn't keep my distance from them; it was less like reading a book and more like listening to the lives of friends and family unraveling and you wish you could help but you can't. All you can do is shake your head in sympathy and cluck.
Producer Scott Rudin has acquired the film rights for the book. He doesn't shy away from difficult material - he is the producer behind Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - and I'm curious to hear who will write the adaptation.
Anna Kendrick: Casting suggestion for Madeleine
And who to think about in terms of casting. Perhaps because I just saw her at the Golden Globes, Shailene Woodley strikes me as a potential Madeleine although perhaps she's a bit young. Characters should be about 22 - 24. Have you read the book? I will have to think about it; but Joseph Gordon Levitt could be quite wonderful as Mitchell. In fact, Anna Kendrick, his love interest in 50-50 might make a good Madeleine too. Leonard, fiery, unpredictable, utterly dashing, a young Robert Downey Jr or a young Johnny Depp. Who is that? Where are our twenty something actors with real chops?

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written and a pure joy to read. I finished it quickly and immediately passed it to my friend who also loved it. Thoughtful, beautiful.
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