As a Detroit writer, I primarily want to support other Detroit writers. Even if they no longer live here. Even if they were from Grosse Pointe anyway. And so it hurts me a little bit to say that I thought that Jeffrey Eugenides’ latest novel The Marriage Plot was pretty god awful. I loved him for writing Middlesex, which was a Pulitzer Prize-winning coming-of-age story set in Detroit. In fact, as the main character traces a long family history, you are treated to scenes of Detroit through many different eras, and all are delightful. Or delightfully engaging is probably the better way to say it since this is Detroit and the rough times are portrayed.
The Marriage Plot suffers primarily from being stuck in one era: college and the few years of angsty post-college life after it. The characters are whiney, love sick, and generally annoyingly self-involved. Whereas Middlesex was a story of survival, family, and maturity, The Marriage Plot refuses to advance past the notions of who should be dating whom based on college-level criteria: mainly physical appearance and family money. At best, it is a fluffy read and an easy one, and its worst it insults the readers intelligence and avoids real human depth. I am sure Eugenides will have a long and profitable career, but this was a real bump in the road.
One of the main characters is from Grosse Point, and likely somewhat autobiographical for the author. If you do read it, pay attention for those moments of tension between the Midwest and the East Coast, a theme also recently successfully explored in Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.