‘The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides, who won the Pulitzer Prize for “Middlesex” in 2003, is a masterful novel about love and marriage and all the subplots that go along with any relationship.
The book takes place in the 1980s at Brown University, where women are benefitting from the feminist movement of the ‘60s. Madeline Hanna is an English major, smart, pretty and from an affluent and loving family, though she has yet to decided what she wants to do with her life. When she meets Leonard Bankhead in a semiotics seminar, she is deeply attracted to his intellect, aloofness and charisma. That he does not come from an affluent family is unimportant to her. However, he does come from a sadly dysfunctional family and Madeline has always told herself she would only get involved with someone who also liked their own parents.
Attending the same seminar is Mitchell Grammati-cus, a Greek-American who grew up in Detroit and who reads Christian mysticism and studies Eastern Religions. He is gentle and respectful around Madeline and feels she is his soulmate. As Mitchell watches Madeline draw closer and closer to Leonard, he tries to warn her about his bipolar disorder, but she pays no heed. Mitchell decides to spend the year after graduation traveling in Europe and India, hoping for a three-week stay as a volunteer in one of Mother Teresa’s hospices in Calcutta as he tries to get Madeline out of his mind.
“The Marriage Plot” is a modern Victorian-style “marriage plot” story about a love triangle in which three young people confront adult life trying to find, live with and do what they truly love. Mother Theresa has found it by serving God; a research scientist wins the Nobel Prize after 35 years of quiet research. Madeline eventually realizes time and effort are at the heart of what she seeks.