Two books, two male authors, and two similar disillusioned looks at love kept me reading late into the night recently.
I admit I read books written by women with intriguing female protagonists most of the time. It’s my preferred choice because I’m a female author who creates female protagonists in pursuit of truth and love. But I reached my quota a few months ago after reading one too many “bestselling” novels by “bestseller” female authors. The last novels disappointed me with weak plots and annoying female leads.
I decided I needed a break from my “studies.” It’s not that I don’t like male writers – Pat Conroy and John Irving are two of my all-time favorites – it’s just that I study in the genre I write. Sometimes it helps to break with routine.
The Marriage Plot takes a different approach when a love triangle forms with Madeleine at the center as she writes her senior thesis on female authors from the nineteenth century who formed the “marriage plot” of the era.
Madeleine’s love interests, Leonard and Mitchell, provide glimpses at very different versions of intellectual prowess. The novel begins at Brown University and follows the characters through college and beyond as they travel and do post-graduate studies. The book has received criticism for being pretentious in its literary ramblings and collegial discussions.
I found it refreshing to read a novel not watered down to achieve the eighth-grade national reading level. I learned about things I’d never heard of before , such as semiotics, and I felt intelligent when I understood the genius behind the madness of Madeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard. Thank you, Mr. Eugenides, for taking ten years to write a novel of substance.
Since I enjoyed reading one male author so much, I ventured immediately into another one on my shelf purchased from the discount bin at the local bookstore. Douglas Kennedy creates a rich portrait of a female protagonist in Leaving the World.
Again, I found myself immersed in the life of an intelligent and literary main character, Jane. Jane loves, loses, and learns to rise up above the ashes of her pitiful life. Despite the outrageous plot contrivances and the unbelievable tragedies that befall Jane, I was intrigued by her pain and poor decision-making abilities. I moaned a couple of times when I recognized the brink Jane teetered on, but I still became invested in Jane’s redemption.
After these books, I went to another male author. Ernest Hemingway has never been one of my favorite writers, but I wanted to read his account of his Paris years in A Moveable Feast. That’s for another post.
Next, I’m embarking on a book I found impossible to read in serial form when it was released back in 1987 in Rolling Stone. But it’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe so I thought I’d give it a try. Now it will be an historical account rather than a contemporary examination Wall Street and New York City. At 700 pages, don’t expect me to write about it anytime soon, if I can embrace it this time around.
Have you read either of these novels? What did you think? What are you reading now?