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).
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?