Tonight at the University of Portland, as part of their Schoenfeldt Visiting Writers series, Jeffrey Eugenides will speak about his most recent book The Marriage Plot.
The Marriage Plot announces its obsession in the very first sentence:
"To start with, look at all the books."
The books are by Henry James, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot—and they're arranged by publication date on the bookshelves of Madeleine Hanna, a Brown University senior who's about to graduate with a degree in English. It's a collection of texts, author Jeffrey Eugenides tells us, "seemingly chosen at random, whose focus slowly narrowed, like a personality test, a sophisticated one you couldn't trick by anticipating the implications of its questions and finally got so lost in that your only recourse was to answer the simple truth. And then you waited for the result, hoping for 'Artistic,' or 'Passionate'... but finally being presented with an outcome that cut both ways: 'Incurably romantic.'"
And that's Madeleine, one of the three protagonists of Eugenides' great new novel, his first since 2002's Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex. In a sense, The Marriage Plot is the story of the answer Madeleine gets when she takes the personality test presented by her own bookshelf, and how that answer changes.
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