I just finished reading The Marriage Plot. Jeffrey Eugenides's story follows three twenty-somethings as they graduate from Brown and dip their toes into the world of adulthood circa 1983. Their paths are unpaved and unwashed and uncertain. The two men are damaged and their female love interest is just about perfect and life goes on around them as they struggle to figure out which direction their futures will take.
Living with mental illness is the spine of this story, although an argument could be made (as I did to myself before I put fingers to keys this afternoon) for marriage or the-search-for-one's-true-self as the over-arching theme. But the characters' intersection with religion and marriage are impacted by Leonard's manic-depression. His illness is untouched by anything.
Drug therapy and academia and private school girls and Mother Teresa are all on the receiving end of Eugenides' reproving tongue. Class differences and financial security, alcoholism and recreational drug use, scientific investigations and literary allusions, needing and avoiding parental units – when I organize my thoughts on the novel in this way I wonder how I managed to make my way through it. It seems so depressing.
Being married to depression, as Madeleine describes her relationship with Leonard, is hard to read about. I found myself screaming (silently, since I was in the airport lounge), urging this bright and talented young woman to extricate herself from the situation with alacrity. The world was her oyster; what made her tie herself to madness? And then I found myself hollering at Mitchell, agreeing with him that bathing suppurating wounds in Mother Teresa's Home for the Destitute Dying was probably not the way he wanted to spend his summer. I had compassion for him, running up the stairs and out into the sunlight, leaving the needy behind, taking care of his own soul first.
He was disappointed in himself. I thought he was taking a healthy step forward. It was the same step that I wished Madeleine would take, too.
And then Mitchell fell under Leonard's spell, just for a conversation in a back room at a party neither of them was much interested in attending, and my perspective was altered. As Mitchell began to see what Maddy loved, I, too, began to let go of my anger.
It's no one's fault. Mental illness happens. The consequences are brutal and difficult and they have sharp, jagged edges on which everyone gets caught. When suicide seems like an acceptable response, when running from the unsolvable presents itself as the healthiest solution, it takes an author with the delicate touch of Jeffrey Eugenides to bring it all together in a simple, elegant, all-of-a-sudden-but-I-saw-it-coming conclusion.
It's a book about doing the right thing. That's a subject about which I've been thinking a lot, lately. The Marriage Plot gave me some pointers on how to proceed with my examination of the subject. I'll keep you posted on my progress. For now, I'm going to work on loving my fellow man while maintaining my own personal space. I think that's the lesson I was supposed to take away.........
This was going to be a two book review; Walter Mosely was on Fresh Air as I drove to the airport and I bought his latest book for my Kindle Fire. Amazon made it all too simple to part with $9.99 so that I could have the book right here right now. My plan was to read it on the first leg and to srite about it on this, the second leg, of my trip to DC. Unfortunately, the Kindle ran out of juice and powered off somewhere in the middle of Chapter 10. I am sitting here staring at a small black device which is hiding my book behind a lack of power. I cannot remember ever being so frustrated. So, denizens, I apologize for a shorter than usual post today. I knew I should've stuck to books on paper. Grrrrr.......