When I first read the synopsis for this book, I wasn’t impressed. It sounded a lot like chick lit. Don’t get me wrong, it is a genre I adore, but I expect so much more from Jeffery Eugenides. He’s responsible for two of my favourite books: The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, and since those are the only two novels he’s published, I was anticipating something epic with The Marriage Plot.
After reading the novel, I can tell you, it was not epic, and seemed a lot like chick lit.
The story centers around Madeline, an English major with a keen interest in the marriage themes in classic English literature. After college graduation she is finds herself in a love triangle with two of her former classmates. One is brilliant, but intense and struggles with mental illness, while the other is more spiritual, grounded, and pines for her from afar. The narrative follows the three though their first year after graduation from their ivy league college in the early 1980s.
If this had been written by anyone else, I would not have been just a little bit disappointed. Although this was a actually great novel, it just wasn’t extraordinary like his other stories. It was still enjoyable to read though, but if you’re a fan of Jeffrey Eugenides, you’ll find it’s not quite the kind of book you’d expect.
This is another book club selection that I wouldn’t have touched on my own. My concern was that it would be an Eat, Pray, Love type thing. I did not enjoy Eat Pray Love. In fact, I disliked it so much that despite my unwavering adoration for Julia Roberts, I couldn’t even get though more than 10 minutes of the film version. Thankfully, this was not the contrived, self indulgent, publishing house sponsored, spiritual quest I’d expected. Instead, it was an honest memoir about overcoming grief and renewing one’s sense of self.
A true story, Cheryl Strayed took to the Pacific Crest Trail in the mid 1990s, alone, to find herself. It was a ballsy undertaking, especially since she was a relatively inexperienced hiker. However, she was broke, recently orphaned, divorced, and had dropped out of college. On top of it all, she was struggling with substance abuse issues. She really didn’t have anything to lose.
What I personally I took away from this book was a slight pang of deep-seated regret. There’s a part of me that wishes I’d done something amazing and bold when I was young and capricious. I watched many of my friends take off on adventures, often to other continents, after we graduated from University. I stayed behind, working my ass off at soul crushing, minimum wage jobs, never quite getting ahead, while I tried to figure out what to do with my life. I would never change for a minute, where I ended up today, but I sometimes wish I’d had the courage to try something monumental along that journey. Not this exactly, but something.
It was exciting to live vicariously though Cheryl though. Her pilgrimage to reclaim her life was inspiring. It was an enjoyable book to read.
Had this novel not been a selection for a book club I belong to, I may not have purchased it. If I had picked it up by my own volition, I probably wouldn’t have continued reading after the first few chapters. Initially, I found The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry boring and depressing.
Harold is a man in his 60s, settling into retirement after a lackluster career in sales. His wife is a career homemaker and domestic martyr who seems to resent having him around. One morning he receives a letter from an old friend, reaching out to him in her final stages of a terminal illness. Harold responded to her note, but on a whim decided it just wasn’t enough. He then set out on a bizarre journey across England on foot, to make amends with his dying friend.
At first, it reminded me of that movie with Jack Nicholson where he retires, his wife dies suddenly, and he drives around in his RV looking back on his life with bitter regret. This isn’t Harold Fry’s story exactly, but it starts off with that vibe. The novel does pick up some momentum, but then it takes a Forest Gumpy detour before getting back to the sad. It’s a downer, but it’s a pleasant read overall. It wasn’t life altering, but it was thought provoking. Stories like this are always a good reminder about importance of taking responsibility for your actions, nurturing your relationships, and confronting your inner demons before they overcome you – because your past is never as far behind you as you might think.