First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
It’s the early 1980s – the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to the Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.
As Madeleine tries to understand why “it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth century France,” real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead – charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy – suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old “friend” Mitchell Grammaticus – who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange – resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.
Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.
Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.
It’s the first Friday of September! We’ve been in lockdown for over five and a half months because of the contagion. Here in the Philippines, the number of cases, thankfully, have started to dwindle down. I hope the trend continues, not just here but all over the world. I am hoping that we can still salvage the year, before it ends. We still have four months. I know there are some who are already looking forward to the next year for a fresh start (I admit I am one of them, haha).
As it is the last working day of the week, it also means another First Impression Friday update. My current read is Greek-American writer Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot. Published nine years after his Pulitzer Prize success for Middlesex in 2002, The Marriage Plot is his most recent novel. Middlesex was also my entry point to the wonderful world of Eugenides’ text. The story of Cal left a deep impression on me that the book became one of my all-time favorite reads. It is also the reason why I resolved to read Eugenides’ other works.
The heroine of The Marriage Plot is Madeleine Hanna, the daughter of affluent parents and an English major on the cusp of graduating from Brown University. She was in a relationship with Leonard Bankhead, a Biology major, who was also grappling with a bi-polar disorder. She nursed him back to health. At least I have read as far as that part of the story. On the side is Mitchell Grammaticus, a Theology major who fell in love with Madeleine. Post-graduation, he embarked on a journey-cum-pilgrimage to Europe and India with his close friend Larry.
As their lives converge at the university, a series of events take place that extend discourses beyond what they know and understand. What I really liked at the start is how Eugenides incorporated several literary works in the story. Through them, he raised some valid points. One clear example was Austrian writer (and recent Nobel Laureate in Literature) Peter Handke’s A Sorrow Beyond Dreams. The Nobel Laureate wrote it after his mother’s suicide but it was noted that the novel was written in an off-handed or casual manner. Apropos this, Eugenides raised a salient and valid point: mother-son dynamics were repeatedly portrayed in literature that the only way to create an impact is to write about it the other way around.
The “marriage plot”, by the way, refers to the plotting device Jane Austen and George Elliott (Mary Ann Evans) used in their novels. But is Eugenides going to use the same approach? With the discussion on Hadke and A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, I was given the impression that Eugenides is using and is going to use the same approach in The Marriage Plot. With my experience with Middlesex, I can easily see him challenging what he refers to as the literary paradigm for the “marriage plot” and, in the process, come up with his own distinct interpretation.
Eugenides’ writing, as always, flowed. However, I did notice that there was a slight difference – The Marriage Plot, though easier to appreciate, conforms more to traditions. Nonetheless, Eugenides’ language and writing is quite easy to understand and appreciate. What is bothering me, however, is the amount of negative criticism it got in Goodreads; it does have a very lowly average rating. I am not letting these ratings affect my reading (ironically, this is one of the rare times I read a review ahead of reading a book).
With all of this, I am looking forward to yet another amazing reading journey with The Marriage Plot. I am more than prepared to delve into a new world, a new tale that grapples with different realities. Apart from romance, I have encountered other seminal subjects such as sexism and gender roles. However, I am holding my hopes up in Eugenides extensive exploration of mental health. With the pace I am going, I might finish this book over the weekend, that is unless work interferes again (I have been working for 12 straight days now, although in some days I worked for just limited hours).
How about you fellow reader, what book are you going to read this weekend? I hope it is a book that you’ve been looking forward to and I hope you enjoy it. Keep safe, and happy weekend!