Last October, Jeffrey Eugenides ’83, author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides, published The Marriage Plot, a novel that follows Brown students from their 1982 Commencement through their following year in the harsh real world. Although the ensuing literary hoopla has subsided, I still haven’t forgotten the relatively extreme existential crisis the book triggered in me.
I’d picked up a copy at the Brown Bookstore and settled into a Blue Room sofa. As I flipped through the pages, moving through the Commencement-day flashbacks, it slowly began to dawn on me that I was messing with the fabric of time and space. I WAS A CHARACTER IN THE MARRIAGE PLOT EVEN AS I PERUSED IT. How did Jeffrey Eugenides know my life?
“Ok, calm down,” I reminded myself. “First of all, it’s set in the 1980s. Secondly, Eugenides went to Brown, so obviously he’d know the day-to-day existence of an average student.” But I still couldn’t shake the feeling he was writing about me. Consider the evidence:
– At the Sigma Chi frat, “vestiges of the previous evening’s ‘Hawaiian Night’ were still there to see.” The frats at The Marriage Plot‘s Brown also devised so-called “theme parties,” which all inevitably lead to frothy beer and bros who watch TV like “openmouthed carp.” Though I would happily take “Hawaiian Night” over AEPi’s recent “Grindology” party any day.
– The novel’s main character Madeleine, like many brave humanities souls before her, attempts to negotiate a romantic relationship with a science major, and thus finds herself prying her boyfriend from his Bunsen burners: “On weeknights, after Madeleine finished studying, she headed over to the Biology lab, where she’d find Leonard starting at slides with two Chinese grad students… She finally got Leonard to leave the lab.”
– Madeleine takes an MCM class in semiotics. She reads Barthes, Derrida and obscure Situationist texts from the “Semiotext(e)” series. Now let’s all go to Banner and look up MCM classes for Spring 2012. Doesn’t Madeleine’s class sound suspiciously similar to “Modernism, Postmodernism, and its Others???” And, c’mon, we all know we’ve had a kid in our classes like the character Thurston, who introduces himself thusly on the first day: “Um, let’s see. I’m finding it hard to introduce myself, actually, because the whole idea of social introductions is so problematized.”
– The Carr House, a RISD cafe on Waterman and Benefit, is a place for “seeking refuge and coffee” according to Madeleine. OMG, girl, so true. Maybe it’s because the ’80s punk aesthetic has filtered into hipster culture, but I know I’ve certainly seen the “girl with stiff pink hair… smoking a clove cigarette and reading ‘Invisible Cities'” in my beloved Carr House as well.
As I read, I looked guiltily around the Blue Room, half expecting its other occupants to knowingly affirm my entry into a literary wormhole. But I eventually recognized my ego had been inflated by excitement. The Marriage Plot wasn’t about me in particular. The novel, or at least its first couple chapters, simply unveiled some shared, untenable core of the college experience. It recognized the joys of discussing Baudrillard while sipping ‘Gansett, but also noted the slight, bitter aftertaste of academic self-satisfaction. It described the impatient anticipation and overwhelming terror of graduation.
On page 28, the aforementioned Thurston contends: “Books aren’t about real life.” Well, suck it, Thurston.