The Plot – Jeffrey Eugenedis and Women’s Fiction

I am a fan of Jeffrey Eugenedis. Aside from the Michigan connection, I enjoyed the scope and craftsmanship of this first two books The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

When The Marriage Plot came out, I bought it in hard cover, read it immediately and went to see the author read and answer questions at my local bookstore Skylight Books.

There are many things to appreciate about the novel. At the reading, Jeffrey spoke about how a central premise drove his work, and that he wanted to write a novel about marriage in the style of writers such as Jane Austen.

The novel is well written, the characters are believable and the details of their life are vivid. Jeffrey convincingly writes from a female point of view, and I appreciate everything about the novel except the overall affect it had on me: I was let down. This intimate coming of age story, the author’s specialty, left me annoyed as I did not resonate with the main character Madeleine Hanna. I think much of this is personal preference and perhaps intended by the author as this young woman was relatively pampered, lost in a fog of academia, and not particularly self-aware. Madeleine’s troubles were minor compared to those of my own college friends, and the novel itself felt minor because of my personal experiences.

However, a thought provoking essay “On the Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women” in yesterday’s The New York Times Sunday Book Review by Meg Wolitzer got me to thinking about my reaction to the novel all over again. In her essay, Meg explores the classification of women’s fiction and if Jeffrey’s novel would have gotten the same reception if written by a woman. Meg explores everything from the packaging of the book to the cultural bias surrounding female novelists.

This morning I reviewed my own bookshelf, and found that I owned more books by male authors, a larger trend in fiction than in poetry. Do I have a bias? Did my teachers? Do publishers? And what exactly is women’s fiction – why is it a category at all? Perhaps this is the plot we should be thinking about.

Martin Ott

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