Book Review: The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot

Jeffrey Eugenides

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

416 pages

The Marriage Plot opens on Brown’s graduation day in 1982.  Madeleine Hanna is one of the students graduating, and when the book opens you realize that she is at an important point in her life but you’re unsure of the circumstances.  Slowly, the facts emerge and a love triangle of sorts is revealed.  You have Mitchell Grammaticus, who is a more introspective character.  He has been in love with Madeleine for awhile but his devotion is unrequited so he leaves for India after graduation with a lot of questions.

We eventually realize that Madeleine’s sorrow on her graduation is due to her breakup with Leonard Bankhead.  Leonard is a philosophical guy who has dealt with his own demons for years.  He suffers from severe clinical depression, the magnitude of which Madeleine does not realize right away.

The Marriage Plot follows Leonard, Madeleine and Mitchell for months after their graduation.  It’s such a dense novel and I couldn’t really determine my own feelings towards the characters.  My gut told me that I was rooting for Mitchell and Madeleine to get together; for her to unearth an undying love for Mitchell.  I think this is due to the fact that I was very drawn to Mitchell.  He seemed so sensitive and caring and he didn’t have the issues that Leonard had.

I really struggled with Leonard.  I felt awful for him.  I have never seen depression portrayed in such an ugly, hurtful way, so I guess that’s to say that I never realized how truly damaging depression can be.  I struggled with The Marriage Plot because I wanted Madeleine to forget Leonard and move on, and what kind of person did that make me? At times I thought Madeleine was incredibly stupid for not cutting her losses, but if you’re in love with someone, you’re supposed to stick by them, through better or worse, so in the end I couldn’t fault her for giving everything to her relationship with Leonard.  Maybe that’s the romantic in me.

I fought so hard with The Marriage Plot when I first started it.  It wasn’t an easy book for me to engage with, and I was unsure of whether I would appreciate it.  Once I got into the meat of it, I was able to relax a little bit and allow the story to take control.  The burning question: did I enjoy it as much as The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex? It was certainly more of a struggle for me than it was for the first two, but I am finding it hard to compare the three.  They are all so different from one another that it’s like apples and oranges.

The Marriage Plot was one of my most anticipated novels of 2011 and I am glad I stuck with it because despite my initial reservations, it ended up resonating with me.

Other Reviews:

things mean a lot


Fizzy Thoughts

Farm Lane Books Blog

Bibliophile by the Sea

I received a copy of this book as a blog win from Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.  Thanks Diane!

TLC Book Tour: A Watershed Year

A Watershed Year

Susan Schoenberger


320 pages

Lucy is lonely.  She is in her late thirties and her only close friend is a fellow college professor named Harlan.  Harlan dies in the very first chapter if A Watershed Year.  He was only thirty three years old and Lucy had spent the last year caring for him as he wasted away from cancer.  Now that he is dead, she has no idea what to do with herself.  She needs to focus on her career in order to get tenure at the college where she works but everything changes when, just a few months after his death, an email from Harlan shows up in her in box.  It turns out that Harlan has set it up so that Lucy receives an email from him on the tenth of every month.  He feels that he has dies without telling Lucy everything he needs to tell her.

I accepted this book for one reason.  It reminded me of Cecilia Ahern’s book PS I Love You. And in a way, A Watershed Year was very similar.  Obviously there were enormous differences though.  Once Lucy begins receiving Harlan’s emails though, she realizes that she needs to take hold of her life and start living again.  She decides to adopt.  Problem is, she is a bit short on cash, so she ends up in an adoption agency that specializes in Russian adoptions.  All of a sudden, she is on track to adopt a little boy named Mat who is four years old.  I must admit, the way she goes through with the adoption was unrealistic, which ended up with its own consequences.  It made for a good story, so I was able to overlook it, but seriously, what was she thinking?! The decisions she made were in poor taste and could have cost her greatly.

The adoption ended up becoming a huge plot point, and I started to wonder if perhaps there was too much going on plot wise.  You have the death of Harlan and his emails but that all of a sudden takes a backseat to Lucy’s adoption of Mat.  The linear-ness of the novel was upturned and suddenly the original premise was somewhat forgotten.

The love triangle in the story was great and annoying at the same time.  Lucy obviously loved Harlan.  She wouldn’t admit it to him and instead she spent her days as his caregiver.  As his emails started to arrive, you began to wonder if Harlan felt the same way towards Lucy.  And the whole unrequited love thing was frustrating.  But then I would remind myself he was dying. So I can understand why that would be something that they would both brush under the rug.  But then we had Louis.  He also works at the same college as Harlan and Lucy and he obviously has a thing for Lucy.  Which is fine, because Harlan is dead and she can’t be with him.  So she should go for a good guy like Louis.  He wants to be with her, he wants to help with Mat . . . so what’s the problem?  Lucy treats him the same way she did Harlan, by not admitting her true feelings and instead employing subterfuges so she doesn’t have to confront the situation.

Another issue I want to touch on is Harlan’s illness. SPOILER ALERT: We find out at the end of the novel that Harlan had the ability to continue on with treatment to buy himself another year or two of life, but he chose to forgo additional treatment so that Lucy wouldn’t have to watch him deteriorate for that much longer.  I thought that brought up a great internal conflict.  Did he do the right thing?  Should he have continued to fight?  Is it worth it to gain an extra year or two when you know you’ll be extremely ill or in pain?  Would that extra time be worth it? I really struggled with those questions, but I definitely couldn’t fault Harlan for his choice.  I could completely understand why he chose to go the route he did. END SPOILER

The copy of A Watershed Year that I received from the publisher included a question and answer session with the author in the back that I found very illuminating. I thought it was very interesting that the first chapter of the book was originally a short story.  I remember finishing the first chapter and feeling like it was so conclusive and wondering where the novel would go from there.  I admit, I was little scared because there was such a note of finality.  It all made sense once I read the interview!

I thought A Watershed Year was phenomenal. Obviously it had a few minor issues, but overall the story was so engaging I was able to overlook any niggling doubts I had.

About Susan Schoenberger

Susan Schoenberger, of West Hartford, CT, is a writer, editor and copy editor with a long history of working for news organizations, including The Baltimore Sun, The Hartford Courant, and A Watershed Year, her debut novel, won the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition in 2006 under the title Intercession and was short-listed for the Peter Taylor Prize. Susan also received an artist fellowship from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism to work toward the novel’s publication. Susan’s short stories have been published in Inkwell, The Rambler, and Bartleby Snopes. When she’s not working or driving one of her three children around, she is writing a second novel. For more information, please visit

Connect with Susan on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Susan’s Tour Stops

Monday, October 31st: A Cozy Reader’s Corner

Wednesday, November 2nd: Books and Movies

Tuesday, November 8th: Sidewalk Shoes

Wednesday, November 9th: Books in the City

Wednesday, November 9th: Books Like Breathing

Thursday, November 10th: Kelly’s Lucky You!

Monday, November 14th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Tuesday, November 15th: Chronicles of a Country  Girl

Wednesday, November 16th: Reviews by Lola

Thursday, November 17th: Bibliophiliac

Monday, November 21st: Laura’s Reviews

Tuesday, November 22nd: BookNAround

Monday, November 28th: Among Stories

Wednesday, November 30th: The Lost Entwife

Thursday, December 1st: Booksie’s Blog

Visit Me on Scene of the Blog!

Cathy at Kittling Books is featuring me today on Scene of the Blog.  Stop on over and find out more about my blogging habits!

Book Review: Election


Tom Perrotta

Berkley Trade

208 pages

It’s 1992 and we’re transported to a New Jersey high school where the election for school president is underway.  Initially, the title was automatically going to Tracy Flick.  Tracy is your typical brown noser and no one has bothered running against her.  That is, until popular teacher Jim McAllister recommends that star football player Paul Warren run as well.  Suddenyl everything is in upheaval, especially once Paul’s emo younger sister Tammy decides to run too.

Election may sound pretty straight forward, especially considering it is barely 200 pages, but there is a lot of subplot going on as well.  Mr M is having marital issues, mainly due to infertility issues with his wife.  Because his marriage is rocky, Mr M begins to wonder if he needs to look elsewhere to satisfy himself.  You also have a love triangle going on between Paul, Tammy and one of their peers, Lisa. Throw all that in along with Tracy’s overwhelming tenacity and this short novel packs quite a punch.

I have only read one other book of Perrotta’s, The Abstinence Teacher, so I have been desperate to read some of his other books.  The reason I chose Election over any of his other novels is because I was sick in bed and needed something that could hold my attention and that I wouldn’t need to invest too much concentration in.  This book fit the bill to a T.  I read it in one sitting and absolutely adored it.  The satirical element, which can be hard to execute sometimes, hit the perfect note and I found myself chuckling along as I read.

I know the movie adaption, starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick, was pretty popular when it came out over a decade ago.  I have to admit, I never saw the movie, although now that I have read the book I am definitely interested in watching it!

If you’re looking for a quick, engaging read, this one is the perfect choice.  I think it would be an ideal book to read for the readathon!

Other Reviews:

Life . . . with Books

I purchased this book from Half Priced Books.

Sunday Salon: 11/13/11

I know Sunday is drawing to a close, so I am a little late, but better late than never.  I worked earlier today so I am just unwinding.  I’ve got some spaghetti and meatballs going right now, and after dinner I just plan to relax and get some reading done.

First off, I have some administrative stuff to take care of.  Namely, the winner fo Cloyne Court.

Congrats Aths from Reading on a Rainy Day!

Please e-mail me your contact info so I can have the book mailed out to you.

So, Sarah Waters fans, I need your opinion.  I have read all of Waters’ books with the exception of The Night Watch.

I read the first 50 pages and just wasn’t wowed.  It seemed to move so slowly and I started to fear that it would be more like The Little Stranger, which I loathed. It was the only Waters book I didn’t love, let alone like.  I am starting to wonder if maybe she should just stick to the Victorian era, which she does so well.  So here’s my question . . . do I stick with The Night Watch or should I admit defeat and move on?

Saturday Snapshot

In which Fiona has to kiss her boyfriend goodbye.

Fiona spends all day (and I mean ALL DAY) snuggling up with her boyfriend, the cable box.  I guess it’s the warmth, but she spends hours daily lounging up there.  Alas, the cable company my husband works for is launching a new cable box wherein there is one cable box for the entire house and each TV is somehow synced to it.  I don’t know, I am dumb about technology, but anyway . . . as of this past Wednesday, there is no cable box upon my dresser for Fifi to lounge upon.  Poor baby.  She will probably have withdrawals.
Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce at At Home with Books.