Summer Reading Season: Eugenides’s Technical Skill

Summer Reading Season is OVER!

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Favorite Fiction Re-reads of the Summer

Summer is officially dwindling down (finally—sorry to those who are sad, but I live on the east coast and I love scarves) and with it comes the end of summer reading. Hopefully not the end of reading forever, but, you know, let us face the reality that some people only do this on the beach in July. I, for one, decided to devote my summer reading not to any of the large plot-twisting novels I’ve been meaning to settle into (Goldfinch, I’m lookin’ at you!) and instead dedicated the languid months of June, July, and August to re-reading some of my favorite contemporary fiction. Yes, there are only three because some people (me) did not lounge on the beach this summer and instead started a new job and worked further on a novel and read other things in between and so YEAH. Don’t judge me.

I will now spend the next few sections discussing some reasons why I love these books enough to read them more than once. Some of you may hate this. Apologies to those who do. You may voice your concerns to me. If, of course, anyone is reading this. Are you there, Readers? It’s me, Alisha.

June’s reading: Jeffrey Eugenides – The Marriage Plot

I began the summer re-read sesh with a little Jeffrey Eugenides. The Marriage Plot came to me at a good time the first go-round. By “at a good time” I mean “only recently out of a relationship with a man with bipolar disorder causing me to relate deeply to our female protagonist.” In any case, Eugenides kills this one for me. So much so, after reading the story the first time, I quickly picked up Middlesex but was sadly disappointed by it. I’ll save my grievances for another post.

What struck me first was Eugenides brilliant use of time in the first third of the book. The
beginning ninety pages are essentially a story told in full circle, where we are swept from Madeleine, who is terribly hungover and experiencing the frantic sounds of her parents buzzing the intercom on the morning of her college graduation. This, as she lays in her bed still wearing her dress from the night before, to every event leading up to the night that resulted in her terrible hangover, including, though mere glimpses, the relationships she’s formed that work to beautifully set up the story, to finally returning full circle with the relief that the boy she started giving a blowjob to the night before had thankfully not had sex with her, to the line: “This thought was interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell, and by the realization that it was graduation day and her parents were downstairs.”

Let’s be clear: not every writer can pull this off. But I love a well-done narrative time contortion.

The story moves from there, leading us on a journey as empathizers to all sides of the romantic triangle Madeline finds herself in, minus the “which one do I love” drama that comes with a typical narrative love triangle. Madeline, flawed as she is, falls in love with a man equally flawed who has a type of inhuman self-awareness that makes him (in my eyes) quite loveable. The other man who loves Madeline knows inherently it will never happen, but with the hopefulness of any person in love anywhere, he manages to talk himself into and out of the idea that she loves him as well.

If you can get past the first few pages of book fetishizing that us writers loooove to do, I think you’ll find a really heart wrenching read that most (not just the nurturers among us) can love. Eugenides pulls off what he sets out to do in all of his books: to tell the story of coming of age. He just does it so much more masterfully here.

One more thing to add about this one: though others rightly complain about the academic
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setting of the novel in general, I feel it has its place when employed well, and it works here. Two of my favorite examples are Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, whereas I love it a little less in Bret Easton Ellis’s The Rules of Attraction. For me, it seems to work best when employed as a setting, or the backdrop of the plot, not necessarily the plot itself. 

Notable lines:

Nobody had wallpaper like hers. Which was why, as she grew up on Wilson Lane, Madeleine had never torn it down.

            It was sun-faded now, and peeling along the seams. One panel, showing a Bouvier in the Luxembourg Gardens, was stained yellow from a roof leak. If moving back in with her parents didn’t feel regressive enough already, waking up in her old bedroom, surrounded by the storybook wallpaper, completed the process. Therefore Madeleine did the most adult thing she could do now, under the circumstances: she reached across the bed with her left hand—the one bearing the gold wedding band—and patted the bed to see if her husband was lying next to her.

Coming up: The Summer Re-Reads of July and August

 

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