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Giveaway: Audiobook of THE MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Eugenides

I would like to pass along my copy of the audiobook version of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. So if my review yesterday didn’t scare you off and you’d like to win it, just leave a comment here and I will pull a name at random next Friday February 17. Good luck!

THE MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Eugenides

the marriage plot, jeffrey eugenidesWell, it’s done. I finally finished the long slog of The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides.

I had high hopes for this book. First, it’s about three Brown graduates from the 80s, and the first third of it takes place at Brown and in Providence. (I went to Brown in the 80s.) Second, it’s by Jeffrey  Eugenides, an author whose previous works I greatly admired (The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex (reviewed here)). And third, it’s about marriage and love and literature. What’s not to like?

Well, a lot. I didn’t love The Marriage Plot. I stuck with it, and am glad I did, but I really didn’t enjoy it all that much.

The Marriage Plot is about a triangle: Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell. Mitchell has been in love with Madeleine since freshman year. Madeleine has been dating Leonard since the middle of her senior year. When the book opens, Madeleine and Leonard have broken up, they are all about to graduate, and Mitchell and Madeleine have made up years after a fight they had sophomore year. The Marriage Plot follows the three of them for the next year or so, during which Leonard has a breakdown caused by his manic depression, Mitchell travels around the world, and Madeleine and Leonard reconcile and try to start a life together.

Like Middlesex, this is an ambitious book. Eugenides takes on a lot of topics – the demise of the titular “marriage plot” in modern literature (tied to the demise of the traditional marriage structure itself); many aspects of religion and faith; biology and the reproductive habits of yeast; manic depression; semiotics. They are all meticulously researched and presented, like in Middlesex, and Eugenides’ writing prowess is as strong as ever. But here’s the problem – I just didn’t really care about most of it, and found it instead tedious to get through. What was the point of this story? There were so many extraneous detours that I kept wondering, “So what?” Was Eugenides just showing off? Did he not know where he wanted to go when he started this book? Where was his editor?

And his characters – they too were aimless and drifting, like their plot. I do remember those post-graduate years and how lost I sometimes felt, but these three took it to an extreme. They just sort of floated along, without much purpose or even desire, passively landing where circumstances took them. Madeleine was the most guilty of this; she seemed incapable of making a single decision that wasn’t foisted on her by someone else. I found her infuriating.

I really wanted to like this book, and on paper (hee) I should have. But it just didn’t add up in the end. There are memorable vignettes throughout, and for that reason I think it was it worth my time. As an overall novel, I don’t think it succeeded. Perhaps Eugenides tried so hard to disprove the marriage plot that he was simply left without one.

I listened to this book on audio almost exclusively, and while the narrator was excellent in places (especially when narrating men with accents), his narration of the women’s characters was awful. He made them sound like men in drag – overly feminine, listless, almost like caricatures. Maybe that’s why I hated Madeleine so much – I couldn’t stand the way she (or her mother, or her sister, or her roommates…) talked. It was painful to listen to those sections of the book when she actually spoke.

Some people liked this book a lot, and others have voiced similar complaints to mine. I’d love to hear what EDIWTB readers have to say about it.

 

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New Book from Jeffrey Eugenides: THE MARRIAGE PLOT

I saw this on BookPage this week – Jeffrey Eugenides has a new book in the works. For you Middlesex fans out there, this is exciting news.

It is called The Marriage Plot, and it's due out in October. Here's what Eugenides has to say about it:

I don’t quite know how to describe it. A college love story? Maybe. It begins on graduation day, in 1982, and involves three main characters. The sweep of the action takes place over the next year or so, as the characters begin their lives outside the university gates. The book deals, among other things, with religion, depression, the Victorian novel, and Roland Barthes. I really don’t like to talk about it. It’s about 400 pages long so far, and two-thirds done. I don’t think it will be a long book, not as long as Middlesex, anyway. It’s different from my other books. More tightly dramatized, less fanciful. What else? It’s not a Detroit book, not this time. Though one of the characters comes from Detroit, the new book ranges in setting from Providence, Rhode Island, and Cape Cod to Calcutta.

A college love story set in Rhode Island? Count me in. Great news!

BBAW Giveaway #3: Audiobook – MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex Book Blogger Appreciation Week Giveaway #3 is a 17-disc unabridged audiobook of Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. I listened to Middlesex this summer and reviewed it earlier this month. It is a fantastic book, and the audio version is done beautifully. I loved the narrator's ability to create a diverse range of voices over 21 (!) hours.

If you'd like to win this audiobook, leave me a comment here and I will pick a winner on Saturday, September 18.

MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides

Sorry for the lapse – it was a weird week. Thank you to my readers and the  book blogger community for the emails, tweets and posts on Wednesday – it felt really nice knowing you guys were looking out for me.

Middlesex Today, I FINALLY finished listening to the audiobook of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex. I started it back in June (!), but because it is a long book (21 hours of audio) and I have a short commute (15 minutes at most), it took me quite a while to get through it. Middlesex is my first audiobook, ever. I always thought I would have trouble concentrating on an audiobook. But a year or two ago, I found this set at a used book sale and decided to pick it up, and in June I was inspired to give it a try.

Since I’ve never reviewed an audiobook before, I am in new territory. I am going to review the story first, and then the audio second.

Middlesex has been urged on me by people I trust for a long time. I avoided it, in part because it was long, but mostly because it sounded weird. It is the sweeping, epic story of Calliope Stephanides, a baby born in the early 60s in Detroit to a Greek family. Calliope’s grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty, came to America in the 20s from a small village in Turkey, and settled in Detroit. Calliope’s parents, Milton and Tessie, endured the Depression, the 50s and the tumultuous race riots of the 60s, finally settling in tony Grosse Pointe, an upper class suburb just outside Detroit city limits. Calliope attends a fancy private school and develops a close – and ultimately romantic – relationship with a female classmate. RIght before her 15th birthday, Calliope learns a complicated truth about herself – she is actually a boy, born with a genetic mutation that makes her look like a girl. The remainder of the book is about how Cal learns to live as a man, and how it affects her family.

It takes over half the book for Eugenides to get to the point where Cal learns the truth. He sets up the long history of the Stephanides family, spending hundreds of pages on her grandparents and parents, and there were times when I questioned the novel’s length, detours and details. But it all mattered. All of the twists and minor players and detours – they each contributed to the story of Callie’s transformation into Cal. And, of course, Middlesex isn’t just the story of Callie’s transformation – it is also an ode to the social, political and economic changes America witnessed over those same 60 years. Detroit and San Francisco in particular are the lucky subjects of Eugenides’ observant eye, and Middlesex explores the essences of these two vastly different cities using historical research mixed with fictional narrative.

This is a hard book to sum up, but in short, I thought it was brilliant. Eugenides is a graceful, richly emotional writer, and his amazing ability to capture the mind of a confused teenage hermaphrodite is nothing short of admirable. The accolades and praise this book has received are well-deserved.

And now to the audio version. This series is narrated by Kristoffer Tabori, an accomplished actor, and I give him credit for embodying so many diverse voices throughout the 21 hours of Middlesex. His narration is fluid and vibrant, his voice highly capable of conveying the range from humor to desperation. To me, the weak link was his female voices, especially that of Cal’s grandmother Desdemona, who bordered on caricature. But this is a minor complaint. There were times when I was tempted to read ahead in my print copy of Middlesex, but I developed a strong appreciation for and loyalty to Tabori as I was reading, and felt that it would be betraying him NOT to experience every word through his narration. He seemed to truly understand these characters, and Eugenides’ vision for Middlesex– is that always the case with audiobooks?

So I conclude my summer-long journey through Middlesex, fittingly, on Labor Day weekend. I look forward to more audiobooks in the future.