In the early 1980s, life for young college graduates in The Marriage Plot: A Novel seemed to spread out before them with infinite possibilities. We first meet them while still at Brown University as they are enjoying philosophical issues and endless mating.
Our main focus throughout the story centers around three of these graduates: Leonard Bankhead, a “charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy”; Madeleine Hanna, an English major, writing on Jane Austen and George Eliot, “purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels”; and Mitchell Grammaticus, intrigued with Christian mysticism and obsessed with Madeleine.
But college is not the real world, and these three discover that uncertainty more than anything else will define their lives over the next year.
Leonard and Madeleine have an on-again, off-again romance complicated by secret issues that gradually are revealed, while Mitchell’s journey in Europe and the Far East distracts him just a bit from his angst over Madeleine.
Each very long section of the book tells the story from different perspectives, winding to and fro in much the way that young people full of restless energy meander when money is not an object and when their own narcissistic pursuits govern their lives.
I really wanted to love this book, and on an intellectual level, I liked the concepts. But I didn’t like the characters. Yes, I felt sympathy for their plights, especially for the melodrama of the Leonard-Madeleine duo when his emotional state and catastrophic mood swings seemed to control everything about their lives. Mitchell’s unwavering obsession with Madeleine seemed a bit pathological, but perhaps understandable, considering his background.
I didn’t get the feeling that the author cared much for these characters, either, and this was exemplified by the author’s somewhat detached writing style. Too bad, since I would have enjoyed “feeling” their pain and really delving into their interior lives with something resembling emotion. Three stars.