Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Let’s Discuss “The Marriage Plot” UPDATE: Discussion Questions

This month we chose “The Marriage Plot” for our inaugural Dear Wendy book club selection. While I waited for the book to arrive from Amazon, I spent the first week of the month reading another book, “Under the Banner of Heaven,” which, after giving it 120 pages, I just could not get into (sorry, Addie Pray!). It was a relief to switch gears with Pulitzer Prize winner, Jeffrey Eugenides’, “The Marriage Plot,” a book that explores the transition from college to young adulthood through the lives of three intertwined young 20-somethings whose graduation from an Ivy League school in the early 80s sends them on three distinct paths of self-discovery.

At the center of the young trio is Madeleine, a pretty girl from an upper-middle-class family in Connecticut who struggles with her desire to be an independent woman and her need to be needed and adored. Her long-suffering platonic friend Mitchell, a brilliant guy with a promising future, has been in love with her since freshman year but Madeleine can never see him as more than just a friend, despite a handful of intimate moments between them. On the other hand, Leonard, a troubled guy from a lower-income family on the west coast who won a scholarship to school, has Madeleine’s heart. Unfortunately, he also has manic depression (or, what we now call bipolar disorder), a mental state that acts like a third wheel in their relationship.

At first, I was rooting for Mitchell to win Madeleine in the end, but I could never fully root against Leonard. He exhausted me and I wanted Madeleine to give up on him so they could both find happiness elsewhere, but I felt bad for him. And bad for Madeleine that the person she fell in love with was not the kind of guy she’d happily be able to raise a family with.

There’s a line on page 194 where Madeleine’s mother says, “It’s never easy on a marriage when a baby comes along. It’s a wonderful event. But it puts a strain on a relationship. That’s why it’s so important to find the right kind of person to raise a family with.”

This line resonated with me for obvious reasons. As I’ve written before, a baby changes a marriage, and one of the best things I’ve done as a mom is choosing an awesome person to co-parent with. It was something that was important to me long before I met Drew. I knew I wanted to have kids and I knew I had to have them with someone who would be an amazing father and a good partner to me.

There was another line on page 344 that seemed to sum up a major theme in the book for me: “There comes a moment, when you get lost in the woods, when the woods begin to feel like home.” Mitchell has made himself at home in the woods of unrequited love. Madeleine has made herself at home in the woods of loving someone who cannot love her back in the way she needs to be loved. And as Leonard’s mental illness is diagnosed and treated for the first time, he begins to make a home in his own madness.

So… those are a few of my thoughts on the book. What about you? Any lines or passages that stuck out to you? What did you think of the characters and the story?

(And don’t forget to pick up a copy of “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” next month’s Dear Wendy book club selection. (Kindle version here).

UPDATE:
By popular demand, here are a few discussion questions to get the ball rolling:

1. If Leonard were out of the picture, do you think Madeleine would ever ever chosen to date Mitchell? If so, do you think they would have been good for each other?

2. How do you think the dynamic among the characters would have been different if they’d gone to a state school in the Midwest rather than an Ivy League school in the Northeast? And to that end, what role did socio-economics play in their relationships/friendships?

3. How do you think the characters and their experiences would be different if they’d been in college today versus the early 80s?

4. Leonard, Mitchell and Madeleine are all on Facebook. Are they friends with each other? What does their page look like? What info do they share?

5. In the end of the book, we learn that Mitchell doesn’t pursue a career as a religion professor. Why do you think that is?

100 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Addie Pray January 30, 2012, 3:05 pm

    * * * G A S P * * * Sigh. It’s ok, I will get over this.

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  • avatar

    The_Yellow_Dart January 30, 2012, 3:35 pm

    I read somewhere that the novel was a sort of roman à clef (i.e. novel with a key), where Mitchell was supposed to represent the author (similar Greek origins, similar intellectual hunger, etc.) and Leonard was a model of the late David Foster Wallace (the bandana, the similar physical characteristics, the mental illness, etc.).

    As for general impressions, I found Eugenides’ prose really clunky at times (the sex scenes and the description of Leonard’s penis were unintentionally comic), and I had a hard time sympathizing with the characters (Leonard and Mitchell especially were way too self-absorbed, and Madeline was maddingly passive!). I was an English major, so I understood most of the allusions to Derrida and Barthes, and it would have been a much tougher slog if I had never heard of _A Lover’s Discourse_ (which is used a bit clumsily as an intertext). Nevertheless, the plot was gripping, as it navigated from Providence, RI to India to Prettybrook, NJ, to NYC.

    Final verdict: not bad, but I thought _Middlesex_ was better.

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    • avatar

      Addie Pray January 30, 2012, 3:40 pm

      Shut the front door – there are sex scenes? Ok, I’m giving this book another shot. I’ll try to read fast.

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      • avatar

        The_Yellow_Dart January 30, 2012, 3:50 pm

        Yes – but just because there are sex scenes, it doesn’t follow that they are good. Here are some “choice” examples (apologies for the semi-graphic quotes):

        -“Leonard’s girth filled Madeline up in a way that felt not only satisfying, but breathtaking”

        -“almost a third presence in the bed”

        -“It’s surprising hardness, after months of not being so, made it feel twice as big as Madeline remembered”

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      • Budj

        Budj January 30, 2012, 3:53 pm

        Sweet…so by not using it…I won’t lose it. On the contrary it will be twice as big…rock on.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray January 30, 2012, 3:57 pm

        Ok but what is considered a “good” sex scene? Written sex scenes always sound a bit cheesy. I mean, is there an intellectual or classy way to describe girth? I don’t think so.

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      • avatar

        The_Yellow_Dart January 30, 2012, 4:01 pm

        Nabokov does it better! But seriously, I don’t think you can look at the three quotes I posted above without giggling a little inside.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray January 30, 2012, 4:11 pm

        Oh, good call – Lolita is one of my favorites!

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      • avatar

        The_Yellow_Dart January 30, 2012, 4:19 pm

        Me too 🙂 Only Nabokov can make you sympathize with a pedophile – I still get chills when I read the opening paragraphs…

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray January 30, 2012, 4:33 pm

        I know – that’s some good writing when he can make you sympathize and feel heartbreak for the poor (sicko) guy… Yulch. I liked the movies too. This is going to sound crazy but: I liked the 1997 movie better than Stanley Kubrick’s version. Ok, judge away!

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      • avatar

        Taylor January 30, 2012, 7:22 pm

        I did too! Jeremy Irons rocked the HH role.

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      • sumilove

        sumilove January 30, 2012, 7:35 pm

        Oh, I *definitely* laughed out loud. They seem much more hilarious out of context.

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      • Budj

        Budj January 30, 2012, 4:07 pm

        “His throbbing girth was remniscient of Victoria’s child-birthing.”…?

        I promise I’ll stop flooding this forum…I didn’t read the book…this minithread was too irresistable a topic though.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray January 30, 2012, 4:17 pm

        ha, me too! though i read like 20 pages. never got to a sex scene, sadly.

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      • TaraMonster

        TaraMonster January 30, 2012, 4:21 pm

        Well, this is erotica, but Anais Nin is fantastic. She was writing back in the 40’s so it’s dated, but that somehow makes it better. You’ll never look at sex the same way again!

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      • avatar

        kittyk January 30, 2012, 9:34 pm

        ooo I want to read…

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      • avatar

        kittyk January 30, 2012, 9:34 pm

        I totally found them awkward and unsexy.

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    • MaterialsGirl

      MaterialsGirl January 30, 2012, 4:23 pm

      I also thought “middlesex” was better.

      I read this book early in January and while I found it pretty captivating, the “English major yak-yak” was a bit much for this engineer. I felt the whole thing was like a canoe on a lazy river until the very end when it hits a waterfall, gets smashed up on the rocks, and finally floats into a pool of disorganized mess.

      Oh yeah, and it sounds like sex with Mitchell sucked

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      • TaraMonster

        TaraMonster January 30, 2012, 5:47 pm

        For someone who doesn’t like the English major blather, that canoe metaphor was pretty awesome! But seriously- I DID major in English and I hate when an author starts in with that crap. It always reads as if the author is shoving their diploma in their favorite literature period under your nose: “Oh I just ADORE Kipling, don’t you?! Myuck myuck myck!”

        It was one of the first things I noticed about Twilight. Bella is always reading Jane Austen. It’s like “I get it, Stephenie Meyer! You loved Pride and Prejudice. Now STFU about it!” Not to mention that she doesn’t seem to understand Pride and Prejudice AT ALL. Elizabeth Bennett would stake Edward dead if he crept into her proper English bedroom in the middle of the night. And that would be after smacking Bella around and telling her to grow a pair of ovaries already.

        Ok. Now I’m getting all boring English major on everyone. I am a hypocrite, it seems!

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      • MaterialsGirl

        Elizabeth January 31, 2012, 9:08 am

        haha, you got me, Taramonster. My other college major option was journalism..

        I refuse to read Twilight. I’m glad my choice was correct.
        Definitely agree with the feeling that authors shove diplomas in your face. It’s the lazy mans way out of developing a scene and a feeling, in my opinion. Instead of seamlessly injecting “oh hey we’re English majors,” it was much more ‘let’s bore you with all this tripe.”

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      • Lili

        Lili January 31, 2012, 5:42 pm

        All the stuff about his lack of personal hygiene had me gagging as I read the scene. Not gonna lie I may have gotten up to put deodorant on myself just to feel less icky after.

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  • avatar

    jlyfsh January 30, 2012, 3:59 pm

    I had a hard time getting in to the book. I had only read 30% (kindle told me that i didn’t guesstimate :)) as of Friday and finished it this weekend. For some reason I had a hard time connecting to a large part of the book. I did enjoy the parts that focused on Mitchell and became more invested in Leonard towards the end of the book. I found myself annoyed with Madeline often. I wanted to throw something at her numerous times. I think her Mother was in particular a very interesting character. I think it’s so easy for us to forget that our parents had a life/whole set of experiences before us and separate of us.

    I left wanting more, maybe because I had such a hard time connecting to the book/characters?

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    • MaterialsGirl

      MaterialsGirl January 30, 2012, 4:25 pm

      Agreed.. I wanted to slap Madeline across the face and tell her SSA! MOA! WTF!?!

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      • TaraMonster

        TaraMonster January 30, 2012, 5:35 pm

        I love that SSA is catching on. 😀

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      • avatar

        Taylor January 30, 2012, 7:23 pm

        What’s SSA again?

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      • avatar

        Kristen January 30, 2012, 7:28 pm

        Say something already!!!

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      • avatar

        Taylor January 30, 2012, 9:34 pm

        Thanks!

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  • avatar

    CottonTheCuteDog January 30, 2012, 4:03 pm

    I read the first page today…..I really need to find some time to read!

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  • avatar

    Sarah January 30, 2012, 4:19 pm

    I erm….really enjoyed the er….pirates? Ok, I didn’t read it. But that sh*t is hardcover only! That’s like 30 bucks on a good day at Barnes! And I’m anti-kindle (I’m also anti-roomba. ROBOTS ROBOTS ROBOTS) so I didn’t download it. But next month’s book is paperback and I’m ready to re-read it! A-CHA-CHA!

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph January 31, 2012, 10:25 am

      You are missing out. My Roomba is the best thing that ever happened to me. It vacuums while I’m not there, you guys, this is so amazing that I don’t even think I will mind when the robots rebel and enslave us all because in the meantime my house is CLEAN!

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    • JK

      JK January 31, 2012, 11:47 am

      This comment (well, the beginning of it) reminded me so much of the Friends episode where Phoebe and Rachel go to the lit class thingy 🙂

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    • Heather

      sunsetdrive January 31, 2012, 12:20 pm

      Can I ask why you’re anti-Kindle? I have had mine for over a year and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever gotten. 🙂

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      • avatar

        kittyk January 31, 2012, 1:09 pm

        Don’t know her reasons but I know for me, one of the things I love most about reading is that I’m not ‘plugged in’ – so much of my day is spent in front of the computer or on my cell, its so nice to relax while holding a good ole book and flip the pages without looking at yet another screen. 🙂

        Although if I ever do an extensive vacation I’ll probably break down and buy a Kindle just for the convenience- books are heavy!

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph January 31, 2012, 5:40 pm

        To bring it back to the book we’re supposedly discussing… how much better would Mitchell’s European vacation been if he had a kindle instead of a backpack full of books?! And he could download a new one in every wifi hotspot on the continent!

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  • avatar

    bethany January 30, 2012, 4:24 pm

    I had a really hard time enjoying this book, too. The begining really bored me, and I had a hard time liking any of the characters. I also felt like the plot was a little too simple. Nice guy likes girl, but he’s stuck in the friend zone, girl likes Bad guy- but it doesn’t work out.

    I had high hopes for this book, because I recently read Middlesex and really enjoyed it. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

    I can’t wait for We Need to Talk About Kevin… LOVED that one!

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    • avatar

      Jiggs January 30, 2012, 9:51 pm

      And if anyone deserves to live perpetually in the friend zone, it’s definitely Mitchell-the-lame.

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  • MELH

    MELH January 30, 2012, 4:30 pm

    I enjoyed the book alot. Its probably not a book I would have picked to read myself, but I’m glad I read it!
    I alternated between feeling sorry for Madeline and wanting to slap her. It was so obvious that Leonard was just so wrong for her, but she kept trying to make the relationship into her ideal. And towards the end I was rooting for Mitchell and Madeline, but then I realized that she really didn’t actually care about him, she was just trying to move on from her pain.
    As for all the literature references, I tried to just kind of skim over them, they weren’t terribly important for the plot, but I did feel like that bogged the story line down.

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  • TaraMonster

    TaraMonster January 30, 2012, 4:35 pm

    Full disclosure: I only read the Kindle sample.

    One of the reasons for this is that I started late. I’m a fast reader, so I didn’t think I’d have trouble finishing by today. I didn’t anticipate being irritated by the book. I found the writing pedantic, and Madeleine’s character insufferably entitled. The only thing I identified with was the hangover Medeleine has at the beginning. My college creative writing professor wrote a novel set at the end of her undergrad days, and warned us that there was no market for it. She said it a little angrily, which I always assumed with the sting of rejection speaking. Obviously this book does have a market since it’s done well, and though it’s not set during Madeleine’s undergrad, I think I understand the problem my professor was trying to illustrate: nobody wants to follow a whiny, naïve character for 300+ pages of awkward prose. Madeleine’s parents read like cardboard, and Mitchell read as pompous, so I had little hope that the other two POVs were going to be much better.

    I don’t often get defeated by novels; I’m sure I will finish it at some point. I’m a firm believer that if you have an opinion on something that you should be able to substantiate it, so the jury remains out on this one for me.

    And I’m aware that I can be a nasty literary snob sometimes. Ok. All the time! Lo siento.

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  • Roxy_84

    Roxy84 January 30, 2012, 4:38 pm

    Overall, I quite enjoyed the book. I liked how the characters’ internalized view of how things were “supposed to be” ended up dictating choices that led to unnecessary hardship. For example, Madeline’s refusal to give up on the relationship with Leonard, Leonard’s visions of his own intelligence and mental state, and Mitchell’s idealized version of Madeline. It felt very true to life, especially in leaving college when you realize that this grand plan you have for your life isn’t necessarily going to come as easily as you thought/at all.

    That said, I did feel like the character of Madeline was a little underwritten. While we did spend a lot of time with her, she fell a little flat for me. I thought there could have been a little more exploration of her thought process around Leonard’s mental illness, rather than having her straight up ignore it. Maybe that was a bit to do with the era – a lot less discussion around mental illness at the time so perhaps that’s how many girls would have behaved – but it would have been more interesting to me if we’d seen a little more of her thought process to do with that, rather than just her dismissal of the article her mother pressed on her and the cheery attitude she had towards Leonard towards the end. Again, perhaps this is because today we’re a lot more talkative about mental issues and I would expect a book written about a woman today marrying a man with bipolar disorder to explore her thoughts about what she was getting into a little more thoroughly.

    To sum, I enjoyed this and thought it was a good book, but it doesn’t come close to either Middlesex or The Virgin Suicides for me.

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    • avatar

      kittyk January 30, 2012, 5:50 pm

      I totally agree with you that Madeline was underwritten. Eugenides does a better job bringing the two male leads to life, but our main character just wasn’t fleshed out as well. I didn’t feel as connected to her I would have liked, didn’t feel what motivated her throughout the book. Part of this probably has to do with all of the literary references that were lost on me- I wasn’t an English major and these aspects slowed reading down for me, though I suppose they were a significant part of the overall book. In the end I really didn’t care who she ended up with.

      I did enjoy the examination of a relationship with a person with a mental illness, especially set almost 30 years ago when we didn’t know as much as we do now, and things were more taboo. Madeline definitely has a naivete about her regarding Leonard’s illness, as shown by her refusal to take her mom’s concerns seriously. She knows what she’s getting herself into without really grasping fully what is in store, as if she knows he won’t ever ‘get better’ but still keeps hoping he will. She both wants him to need her and not at the same time.

      —-
      I’m going to revisit this thread, I’m tired today and not remembering all that I wanted to say about the book right now 🙂 Anyone want to do this thread more discussion-style? With some talking points/discussion questions to get the ball rolling?

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      • Dear Wendy

        Wendy January 30, 2012, 6:03 pm

        I’ve actually never been in a book club before. Is that how they are normally done? With talking points/ discussion questions? If so, everyone is feel to jump right in. I’m more of a “Pour a glass of wine and talk about why you liked or didn’t like the book/certain characters/ plot line/ scenes, etc.”

        I agree with what was said upthread about the awkwardness of the sex scenes, but I imagine that was intentional.

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      • avatar

        kittyk January 30, 2012, 9:22 pm

        Oh man I’ve been out & didn’t see you replied. I like the pour a glass of wine and talk style too, but yes talking points/discussion questions are usually a good way to get the ball rolling in a book club. I thought the thread seemed a little slow and that might help things along 🙂

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      • Roxy_84

        Roxy84 January 30, 2012, 6:04 pm

        The literary references were lost on me as well – perhaps that’s part of the reason I also didn’t feel very connected to Madeline. I think you nailed it with the comment about her motivation. I just didn’t get why she fell so hard for Leonard or why she wanted so badly for it to work out. I mean I can understand in a general sense of “girls going for the non conformist who seems so cool and above them” or “girls wanting to fix someone” or “hard to let go of your first love”, but I thought her specific motivations could have been explored a lot more. I identified way more with each of the male characters than with Madeline.

        I’d be in for more discussion-style.

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  • avatar

    WatersEdge January 30, 2012, 6:14 pm

    DW meetup book clubs?????? NOVA! LET’S DO THIS!

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    • avatar

      Ladybug January 30, 2012, 6:32 pm

      YES!

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      • avatar

        WatersEdge January 30, 2012, 7:41 pm

        I posted in DW meetups. NOVA people, respond! I will organize!

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  • iwannatalktosampson

    iwannatalktosampson January 30, 2012, 6:52 pm

    HELP! So ForeverYoung = iwannatalktosampson.

    I have no idea what i’m doing with this whole gravatar/registering stuff. I have uploading my gravatar successfully, but I can’t log in. Everytime I do the page just reloads and nothing changes. I am on my third username and I have exhausted every e-mail address I have. I have tried resetting the password and nothing seems to be working! Am I missing something?

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  • iwannatalktosampson

    iwannatalktosampson January 30, 2012, 6:55 pm

    Hey guys I need help! iwannatalktosampson = ForeverYoung. So I have gone through 3 usernames and exhausted every email address I have and I can’t log in/register apparently. I have successfully downloaded a gravatar and tried resetting my password but everytime I try to log on to dearwendy it just refreshes the page and nothing changes.

    See this is why I was afraid of the forum. I told y’all I was terrible at this stuff! I keep registering and registering and reloading and changing passwords and nothing happens! What am I doing wrong?

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    • iwannatalktosampson

      iwannatalktosampson January 30, 2012, 6:57 pm

      Oh shiz! Well the avatar worked but I still can’t comment in the forums. What am I doing wrong?

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest January 30, 2012, 7:43 pm

        Awesome name!!

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      • iwannatalktosampson

        iwannatalktosampson January 30, 2012, 7:50 pm

        Ha, thanks! I was wondering if anyone would get it. I named my dog Sampson and at least 75% of the time I introduce him to someone they will start quoting that movie. It’s very strange that that 5 minute clip left such an impression on people!

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      • avatar

        Witchmom3 January 31, 2012, 7:49 pm

        Same thing with me. I’ve tried and tried for days and it NEVER sends me a password. {Insert Einstein’s INSANITY quote here! LOL}

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  • avatar

    Kerrycontrary January 30, 2012, 6:59 pm

    I liked this book a fair amount. I guess the reason I connected with it so much is I clearly remember leaving college and that year afterwards. While of course I got angry with Madeleine and annoyed with Mitchell, I found there characters highly realistic. How many people try to “fix” someone, ignore their issues, or maybe even just downplay them as Madeleine does with Leonard. I could easily see a college-aged person not realizing the implications of a mental illness on their lives and their relationship. And how many people convince themselves that someone is really ‘the one’ for them when they hardly know them at all? or know their faults? While I enjoyed Eugenides’ Middlesex far more, I don’t think that this novel was disappointing in any way.

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    • avatar

      painted_lady January 30, 2012, 8:14 pm

      I totally agree! Watching these very sheltered young characters come to conclusions the rest of the adult world has known for years was completely fascinating to me. Mitchell realizing his knowledge and spiritual expansiveness doesn’t exempt him from being every bit as self-involved and arrogant as the vast majority of very successful college grads, Madeleine becoming increasingly exhausted by her project boyfriend/husband and realizing the love of a good woman can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved, and Leonard coming to the realization that he can’t stay with Madeleine just because he has nothing else…it was fascinating.

      Middlesex was a much broader book, like a Greek tragedy, really, which is what I think Eugenides was shooting for, and hit very successfully. It addresses huge things like identity, gender, family, heritage amidst a conflicting culture, and the very nature of love. It’s got universal applications, and Marriage Plot isn’t that at all. But it beautifully encapsulates that tiny blip on the radar between when we think we’re adults and when we actually become adults. So it’s a smaller book as far as scope is concerned, but I think it’s every bit as lovely.

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      • avatar

        cporoski January 31, 2012, 6:31 am

        I totally agree. I thought this book captured the idea that Madaline and Leonard’s relationship worked well in a college setting and dissolved in the real world. That Leonard’s illness was great in college and was actually an asset. It was only as the real world approached that people started to see how messed up he was.

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      • avatar

        painted_lady January 31, 2012, 10:37 am

        Oh, that’s a really good point. I knew so many people whose mental illnesses in college made them exceptional – more energy, or deeper emotions (a strength in theatre), or high levels of aggression to make them better debaters, more driven…but then with few exceptions, once those people left college they floundered.

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    • avatar

      Addie Pray January 30, 2012, 11:40 pm

      Kerrycontrary, where have you been, young lady?

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  • avatar

    painted_lady January 30, 2012, 8:30 pm

    In answer to the last question, I think Mitchell’s travels in India force him to see more clearly how much he’s bought into his education substituting real-world experience. He has this impression that he’s wise and enlightened, but he’s increasingly more disturbed by the realities of the hospital. I think he wanted to be a professor because of the elevated quality he felt it gave him – it ties into why he was so put-out about his Religious Studies professor seeming so thrilled to be at graduation in his academic regalia. It’s such a pedestrian thing to be excited about, and I get the impression he wants someone engrossed in such a serious subject matter to be above the mundane. And Mitchell’s infatuation with Madeleine is tied in as well; looking at it from the outside, he’s just a goofy guy with a hard-on for a pretty girl. They don’t have much in common as far as life experience, interests, outlook, beliefs, but Mitchell sees this potential relationship as a deep connection. When they finally do have sex, she’s, well, human. He loves the idea of Madeleine more than he loves the real thing, and he loves the idea of religion much more than the actual practice of these beliefs. So just as he lets her go, he releases his idea of being a religious studies professor.

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    • katie

      katie January 30, 2012, 8:39 pm

      dang, thats deep….

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      • avatar

        painted_lady January 30, 2012, 9:10 pm

        Well, I went through grad school with a bunch of Mitchells – just substitute religion with theatre, and there we all were, just getting off to our own sense of superiority. His disdain for that one professor reminded me of the way people used to look down their noses at theatre companies who do shows like “Steel Magnolias” and “Blithe Spirit” which are really good shows that the majority of people happen to like and have nothing shocking in them.

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      • avatar

        kittyk January 30, 2012, 9:30 pm

        It is 🙂 But I think she hit the nail on the head with her interpretation and the parallels between his infatuation with Madeleine and his interest in religion. Great points painted_lady!

        Mitchell is very much in his head about life and his expectations, with little real-world experience to back it all up. He is an intellectual, but substitutes thinking about these engrossing subjects for really living anything at all. It is more exciting for him to pine for a girl he can never have than actually be with her- she can’t possibly live up to his expectation.

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      cporoski January 31, 2012, 6:33 am

      I am seriously loving your responses.

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      • avatar

        painted_lady January 31, 2012, 6:28 pm

        I can’t lie: I was that kid in high school English class that actually read the assignments and LIKED them, AND I knew all the answers to the teachers’ questions. It’s like I’ve gotten permission to be annoying again.

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        cporoski February 1, 2012, 6:31 am

        Me too! My brother said the other day that he liked being younger than me because I was “Friends with my teachers.” I was so embarrassed but it was kind of true.

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  • katie

    katie January 30, 2012, 8:37 pm

    i was very afraid of this book after reading the first couple pages- all the literary references. im a chef people, i read books in high school. we were assigned cookbooks in college! lol. but, thankfully, i dont think that you needed to understand them to get the book..

    so, i thought the book was really interesting to read, the way it was written. it was kind of like Atonement, where you see the same thing happening from different people’s perspectives and how that can cause problems. i loved when i finally got to get inside leonards head and figure out what he was thinking about everything… it was cool.

    i also thought this book was terribly appropriate to be a DW book club book, because i could just imagine any of them writing a letter about their respecive problems to wendy the whole time.

    i was surprised by the ending, i guess because im used to disney movies, so i was expecting them to end up together… but, i feel like that was a very real ending, so i liked it. and i was very happy that mitchell stopped being so dumb about madeline and MOAd.

    i actually thought that the sex scenes were good, i guess maybe because sex in and around college is awkward and weird sometimes.. but, ive never actually read a book with sex scenes in it, so this was my first experience with it.

    my favorite line, which i read to my boyfriend, was when leonard was thinking about his college days, and it was something like, “an accurate discription of his college days was coming up from going down on a girl long enough to take a bong hit and answer a question right”. i thought that was funny.

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      painted_lady January 30, 2012, 8:46 pm

      I was so relieved Mitchell and Madeleine didn’t end up together! When they ended up having sex, I was like, “SERIOUSLY?! So this is gonna, what, just magically fix everything?!?! Now they love happily ever after, forget the fact that the two of them have some serious issues to work through alone, boom! Sex heals all!” And then they didn’t end up together. It was such a relief.

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      • katie

        katie January 30, 2012, 8:58 pm

        haha. yea. i was actually surprised that they did… i was kinda like, the worst thing that she could be doing right now is going up to mitchell’s attic room JUST like she did their sophomore year of college… wonder what she wants??? lol

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      kittyk January 30, 2012, 9:32 pm

      Oh that is too funny- I can imagine the DW letters they would write.

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      Rachel February 1, 2012, 11:21 am

      Ha, I read that line to my boyfriend too.

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    musiclover85 January 30, 2012, 9:47 pm

    First of all, this was a tough book for me to read. Not just because of the major literary heavy sections in the beginning (I’ll be honest, a lot of that went over my head and I LIKE literature.) But Madeline’s relationship with Leonard was wayyyy to similar to a relationship with an ex for me. Dealing with his mental illness, trying to keep it a secret, trying to be support of. Throughout most of the book, I was silently screaming “Leave him, you’ll be better! I promise! Just go ahead and leave him.” I almost cried when she married him because I knew it wouldn’t get better for her. So it was really, really tough for me to read because of that.

    That said, I don’t think Mitchell was the right guy for Madeline either. He thinks he loves her, but he doesn’t even know her. The way he was there for her the whole time after Leonard left was WEIRD, it was just really weird. It went beyond friendship and into creeperdom. I’m glad she didn’t fall into the trap of “It will be better if I’m with Mitchell.” I was actually really proud of her for making that distinction.

    I’m glad I read it though. It definitely gave me some insight into my own past and helped me to realize what a better place I’m in now.

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      kittyk January 30, 2012, 9:53 pm

      “He thinks he loves her, but he doesn’t even know her.”

      This is so true- even though they had a friendship for several years, he was ‘in love’ with her after they first met- knowing nothing about her. And that infatuation is what propelled their friendship.

      And I’m glad someone else thought that was super weird that he just shacked up with her and her family after Leonard left. That just seemed so strange to me- who does that?

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      • katie

        katie January 30, 2012, 11:55 pm

        well i think that he was the knight in shining armor, you know? the supportive friend who her parents love who just HAPPENED to be at the same party she ran back to after leonard left her, and he volunteered to accompany her on the taxi ride home- he wanted to be that, the guy who picks up the peices after a break up. like a rebound. but, think i think he realized the error in it…. either that, or he really realized what a rebound is.

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      • katie

        katie January 31, 2012, 12:32 am

        ohh- im gonna get all deep now and take what painted lady said and apply it here to! mitchell wanted to be the knight in shining armor to EVERYONE. he wanted to be a distinguished religious academic, potentially saving souls, and then he realized what life is like when your actually there, saving souls, so to speak. so he realized that he didnt like that life, just like he didnt like life as a rebound.

        bam! philosiphizing!

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        musiclover85 January 31, 2012, 8:47 am

        Woo hoo! Go Katie!

        I think you’re right, it was definitely some “Knight in Shining Armor” crap going on. But it made me wonder what her parents thought also. I mean, did they think “Oh we like this guy and maybe this will make Madeline see there are better guys out there.” or “We’ve always liked him, now maybe we’ll get a decent son-in-law.” Your daughter is going through a terrible, tragic moment, let her recover and make the creepy ‘friend’ leave!

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        painted_lady January 31, 2012, 6:36 pm

        *applauds* And! And! Your comment made me realize how extensively it all connects back to “The Lover’s Discourse.” Mitchell seems to look down on that whole literary movement, but what I gathered from Eugenides’ distillation of it for the novel is that nothing is original and there are tropes that every single writer – artist, really – buys into. And Mitchell is above it and yet is totally living his whole life as this trope! And also the trope of the ascetic religious figure, and of the professor, and of the scorned lover that he seems to think he is but never actualy was, and so on.

        *sigh* I love literature.

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      • katie

        katie January 31, 2012, 10:49 pm

        painted lady, i wish that i understood 30% of that statement.

        dang literature…. lol *sigh*

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        painted_lady January 31, 2012, 11:17 pm

        Agh! Sorry! So tropes are more or less sterotyped characters that you see a whole, whole lot. So the knight in shining armor is a trope – Darcy in Pride and Prejudice is a pretty good one, that guy that comes in at the last minute and saves the day. Or like “lovable loser” is a trope, like Bill Murray in Ghostbusters or Billy Madison or any role Jack Black has ever played. And I didn’t read any of the other literature referenced in the book, but it seems like the whole idea behind Lover’s Discourse and Gramatica and all of that was to try and rebel against the idea of tropes and overdone storylines, and Mitchell is falling right in line with the sort of fasting, self-flagellating mystic, the overly stern and serious professor, and then the knight in shining armor. That’s all I meant, that he considers himself above all that stuff and then plays right into it. Sorry – I’m a TOTAL lit geek.

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      • katie

        katie January 31, 2012, 11:38 pm

        oh you are so nice to actually explain that for me. so a trope is like an archetype (i had to think really hard to remember that from high school)? only archetypes are themes in stores right, not characters?

        i very much agree with you about mitchell though. he thinks he knows it all, especially when leonard talks about him in that one class they had together- he always talked and offered his own insightful opinions, but really he was just another person.

        dont apologize!! i love analyzing books, i just havent done it in forever and i havent read a lot of books and i dont know the terms anymore. thanks for explaining it!

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        painted_lady February 1, 2012, 1:35 am

        Actually, I think they’re synonymous – and archetype is something I’ve heard more in reference to literature, trope to film, so you’re probably more correct. Anyone else know for sure? Trope is just the one that swam to the surface in my NyQuil addled little noggin today.

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        kittyk January 31, 2012, 10:21 am

        Good point about the knight in shining armor. He definitely wanted to be there to pick up the pieces. But I still found it weird that he just started staying with them, and for so long.

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      Rachel February 1, 2012, 11:33 am

      musiclover, I had pretty much the same reaction. I enjoyed the book, and think (minus the literary references that went over my head) that it was very well written. But it was quite painful to read. I, too, had an ex who struggled with mental illness (bipolar or depression maybe, but he never actually saw a doctor). I can remember desperately clinging at signs that he was really the person I fell in love with. I had to take everything he said with a grain of salt depending on which mood he was in. I made excuses for him because he pretty much never wanted to go out and socialize – unless he was in a really good mood and then I’d be embarrassed with how much attention he demanded from others. I think, because we broke up about 4 years ago now, that I had put some of it out of my head, but this book has made a lot of that come flooding back, how draining it was, the weird combination of anger and love and frustration and guilt. I’m glad she didn’t end up with Leonard. (or with Mitchell, I thought that was a good way to end the book).

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    kittyk January 30, 2012, 9:49 pm

    3. How do you think the characters and their experiences would be different if they’d been in college today versus the early 80s?

    At first I was thrown by the fact that it was set in the 80’s and didn’t get why it was. But I think it worked well for the story.

    For starters, the whole having Mitchell travel the world and daydream about Madeleine from afar, never knowing what she was up to, not even knowing she got married (well he did *know* – he wrote her to NOT marry him- but he didn’t actually know)- that never would have have worked as well in today’s world. Mitchell would have been stalking her on facebook, keeping track of her every move, analyzing her every status update. She’d seem insanely happy because she’d only post things that would paint the picture she wanted- of her and Leonard as a perfect couple enjoying their time on the cape. Her sister and mother wouldn’t have shown up to have a talk- they would have Skyped about it and she never would have found his pills. Etc Etc. The olden days of not being totally accessible definitely played into the story as a whole.

    I think where it becomes really important that it was set in the 80’s is in relation to Leonard’s illness- his ‘manic depression’, or as Wendy said- now better understood as bipolar disorder. The fact that less was known about mental illness then, and that the subject was much more taboo had a big effect on how it is handled in the story. Madeleine has an idea of what the illness means for Leonard and their relationship, but she doesn’t fully grasp it, nor does anyone. She knows it is a lifelong battle, but I think she still hopes he will just get better. While her approach might have been wrong, her mom at least tried to help her to understand when she sent her the article from the woman married to a manic depressive. The lack of understanding is also evident in the way many of Leonard’s college friends try to talk him out of his depression- telling him to cheer up, etc etc. Like he’s having a bad day- not understanding that he is depressed.

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    • Roxy_84

      Roxy84 January 31, 2012, 11:35 am

      Totally agree that the biggest effect of the book being set in the 80’s is the treatment of mental illness. It’s way easier for Madeline to choose ignorance regarding how Leonard’s illness might affect their relationship than it would be today.

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    amers5 January 30, 2012, 11:09 pm

    I enjoyed the book overall. Although at first rooting for it, I am happy that Madeline didn’t end up with Mitchell. When you believe for so long that you’re “meant to be” with someone you play them up so much that your fantasy is truly sweeter than reality. Also, Leonard’s battle with bipolar disorder fascinated me. I felt so deeply for him and Madeline. I felt so sad for Leonard and all he had to deal with. He fought his whole battle basically alone, except for Madeline. I wanted to tell Madeline to leave Leonard, and lead a “normal” life, but then again I didn’t. I cannot imagine being in this scenario, and the constant turmoil my mind would be in. One line that really rang true to me was, “You can’t save someone, they have to save themselves.” This helped me accept that Madeline should move on from Leonard , especially when he took off for Portland. After reading books I cannot help but wonder where the characters will be years down the road. Will Madeline eventually remarry and lead a traditional life? Where did Mitchel’s religious studies take him? Did he find what he was looking for? What will happen to Leonard? Does he ever make it out of the forest?

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  • Lili

    Lili January 31, 2012, 1:35 am

    I really enjoyed this book! It was also painful to read in some places because I can still remember the hurt and pain associated with a similar identity searching time in my life. Its really late here and I have so much more to write, but for now I wanted to ask–if Madeline wrote in to DW, and it was a Your Turn, what would you have told her. Feel free to pick where in the book you wanted to counsel her the most.

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      cporoski February 1, 2012, 6:48 am

      I would think that Madeline would need to learn who she was. She needs to move out of her parents’ house with the childhood wallpaper. She needs to get rid of mitchell and leonard. She needs to go to grad school with her girlfriends and develop herself.

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  • Roxy_84

    Roxy84 January 31, 2012, 9:05 am

    Oh good discussion questions! I like 1 and 4.

    1. Yes, I think if Leonard were out of the picture, right at the end of college Madeline would have chosen to date Mitchell for a very ill-advised few months. The way I think it would have gone down is Madeline would have felt very aimless and directionless, and with one even half-move from Mitchell she would have just fallen into a relationship for lack of anything better to do. They would have only dated for a month or so before Mitchell left, so not long enough for the shine to wear off. But I don’t think she would have been very into it, and while Mitchell would be writing her feverish love letters from his travels and considering coming home early, she would fall into bed with someone else, or just slowly get a handle on what she wants and finally end things with him via letter.

    4. Leonard is not friends with Madeline – when he gets around to it he might accept Mitchell’s re-friend request (Leonard had de-friended Mitchell when he started dating Madeline), but he doesn’t go on facebook much and his page is mostly outdated pictures from college that other people tagged him in, with a few people posting on his wall wondering what he’s up to. Mitchell is friends with Madeline, and they occasionally comment on each other’s pictures or statuses. Mitchell’s page has several photo albums he put up of college, and a couple from the earlier part of his trip. He has lots of inspirational quotes in his quotes section of “about me”, but is slowly using facebook less. Madeline’s page doesn’t have too many photos, but lots of conversations between her and other people and status updates every few weeks. She occasionally looks at the “this person does not share info” thing on Leonard’s page with his profile picture.

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  • MELH

    MELH January 31, 2012, 9:43 am

    Another potential discussion question, since as said above, the book is good for DWers because we see people’s letters all the time about relationship issues: What advice would you give to Madeline if she wrote into DW? And if Madeline did an update, would her update be one of the good ones, or one of the well you’re all wrong because I left out 15 facts?

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      SpaceySteph January 31, 2012, 10:30 am

      Definitely the latter. I feel like she wouldn’t even mention the bipolar disorder until after we ripped her a new one.

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      Addie Pray January 31, 2012, 11:44 am

      Good questions. I haven’t even read the book but I wanted to say that. Ok, I need to go read the book. I shouldn’t even be allowed to comment on this thread. But sometimes it’s hard for me not to comment.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark January 31, 2012, 1:18 pm

    I haven’t read the book, but to paraphrase the description of it: “Nice clueless girl, ignores nice guy who genuinely cares for her so she can instead date a troubled bad boy who battles mental illness and will obviously only bring her heart ache and pain…” So, yeah. Definitely a good fit for the bulk of the LWs around here… Here’s to hoping that the novel ends badly… Maybe then some LWs around here will actually learn something. If love conquers all…well, that’s a really fucked up message to send. Why? Um, read most of the letters from situations like this. Love NEVER conquers all. More like squashes all…

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      SpaceySteph February 1, 2012, 4:25 pm

      Haha without reading the book, you basically nailed EXACTLY what happened.

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    matbo January 31, 2012, 4:01 pm

    My humble opinion: I only managed to get through this book on principle. I thought it was rather messily written with the style varying through the book – just as you felt like you were getting a grasp on people (Leonard buying saltwater taffy, Mitchell running from charity), styles would switch and be all words and scenery and the characters living completely in their own heads.

    What frustrated me most was that there was no food for thought. As someone who should be able to relate to all these people I felt nothing, except that they were stupid – their lives did not provoke me, did not cause me to reflect my own current situation.

    Lastly, I have no idea what Madeleine was doing in that book or why we were even hearing her point of view, she was an entirely one dimensional character and any episode where she may have been hurt was glossed over. She seemed the stereotypical female “lost in love” and frankly it bored me.

    1. If Leonard were out of the picture, do you think Madeleine would ever ever chosen to date Mitchell? If so, do you think they would have been good for each other?

    Yes, they would have dated, but she would have realized she didn’t love him and he would have run off to India at the first sign that she was indeed not perfect.

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      cporoski February 1, 2012, 6:42 am

      See I saw this book as the writer looking back. I think this book was more about the concepts of that age. Like when you leave college, you are full of ideals but not alot of practical experience.

      I actually loved madeleine. You have to remember that she was written 30 years ago. So she had more options in her life but the expectation was still to settle down. Remember that in the 1970s a woman couldn’t rent an apartment or get a credit card without a man cosigning. She was sitting at the end of college and knew she couldn’t go back home but had no idea what to do with the rest of her life. So she was grabbing at what was near. I think the floundering was wonderful. She just wanted the dream so badly.

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        SpaceySteph February 1, 2012, 4:32 pm

        “Remember that in the 1970s a woman couldn’t rent an apartment or get a credit card without a man cosigning.”
        Is that true?! Oh my gosh that is terrifying. No wonder my smart mother, with a degree in chemical engineering, got married only weeks after her college graduation and immediately set about teaching high school chemistry and having babies instead of going out to run the world.
        No wonder nobody in my family understands why I have a nice boyfriend but haven’t gotten married. Why when they mention that they’d like me to have babies I tell them I’m busy. I am busy, in a way they never could be!

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    EmmieEm January 31, 2012, 5:06 pm

    I feel as if the entire book I was waiting to connect with the characters but was left unsatisfied. The emotion most of the relationships lacked authenticity be it Leonard/Madeline or Madeline/Phyllida, Phyllida/Alton. It just felt as if the characters were not willing to love unselfishly. Mitchell was so wrapped up in his longing for Madeline that it came off as more of an obsession than love. He seemed to be more in love with the idea of being with her.

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      cporoski February 1, 2012, 6:45 am

      But isn’t that so much of young love! The idea of someone or the “good on paper guy”. I think that it takes time to learn to love unselfishly. I actually think that I had been in these kind of relationships when I was young. All I knew was how to be selfish.

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    SpaceySteph February 1, 2012, 4:38 pm

    Maybe I should stick to The Hunger Games or something, but it really irked me that there were only like 4 chapters in this book. Sorry, I don’t read 100 pages in a sitting. I need a chapter every 20 pages so I can find a good stopping place.
    Half the time I left this book in the middle of a page and then had figure out where on the page I wanted to pick up. And sometimes I stopped reading before I was ready because I got to a chapter break and didn’t want to move past it because the next one was 50 pages away.
    Maybe I just don’t understand “literature” but writing like that is completely inaccessible.

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    AnneMarie February 1, 2012, 10:30 pm

    I, personally, did not like the beginning of this book at all. It was all about this prissy, rich white girl who is graduating from a Ivy League school. Her character just kept rubbing me the wrong way. Also the way the author made every talk while they were in class reminds me of the pretentious kids who loved hearing themselves talk more than really getting into the class discussion.

    as for the first question, I truly doubt Madeleine and Mitchell would have ever end up together. Though Mitchell was so blinded by his sexual desires, in time, he would realize how selfish she is when he is around. Madeleine was constantly using Mitchell for her own personal gain. He would have done everything for her but the feelings would never be reciprocal. Maybe, at the end, she let his stick around because she finally got what she had been wanting for so long… someone who would do everything for her rather than it being the other way around.

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    Sue Jones February 29, 2012, 11:14 am

    It (Marriage Plot) was relevant to me personally since I graduated college in 1983 so the time period and the age of the characters is close to me personally. I remember when nobody had answering machines and if you were waiting for someone to call you would (or could) wait by the phone all day long…. glad we don’t do that anymore…

    Also my stepson has severe bipolar disorder and back in my 20′s I dated a guy on and off who I am pretty sure now had undiagnosed bipolar disorder ( manic depression) so I am more than a little familiar with the roller coaster of being around someone with this disease. Though it was rougher with my BF since I did not know what was going on and I was young , but I guess he prepared me to deal with my stepson and put up those strong healthy boundaries and live my life regardless of how he is doing. It helps that my stepson does not live with us….

    I also think that as Madeline matures she will eventually end up with someone like Mitchell. Leonard is who so many of us date in our 20′s until we learn what to look for in a reliable and stable mate.

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