“Which invited the question of how, exactly, did you douse a burning river? What could you do, when the retardant was also the accelerant? The lovelorn English major contemplated the symbolism of this.” (The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides)
The best standard by which to judge a book I’ve ever come across is the “cherry plum test”, itself embedded in an excellent book (The Elegance of the Hedgehog). The test measures the quality of a work by assessing its balance between emotional/sensory and the intellectual. At first, I thought The Marriage Plot was the book I’ve been waiting for, the first book I’ve read in ages that would be able to pass the cherry plum test with ease and aplomb – the story was perfectly told, with the complicated relationships buoyed up by a lofty exploration of the history of literature and modern thought… for the first 350 pages, that is.
Yet, for all its good intent, the last 50 or so pages disrupt this equilibrium, letting emotions (namely, anger at the unsatisfying ending) win out over any rational thoughts one might have had about the benefit of a non-marriage plot finale. Although I have fluctuated a lot on whether the ending is a brilliant conclusion or a cowardly attempt at being ‘interesting’, one thought always prevails: why would one want to read a book about a woman and her rebound lover? Because that is what this book is – a story about two people whose lives intertwine in an insubstantial and almost pathetic way.
In the end, although the prose is lovely and the characters winning, I would recommend this book to the non-readers of the world. To those who do not love a story, who do not care how one is concluded, and who are not invested in the ‘marriage plot’. Also, if you happen to have a habit of not finishing books – this is for you, too. For those who have read the whole thing through, what did you, personally, think of the conclusion?
Buy Borrow TBR Avoid
Ending: Award-winningly unsatisfying
Further Reading: Since I put myself in the position of recommending this to non-readers, I will make a list of a few other endings that, in my opinion, don’t deliver what their beginnings promised: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, and The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.