The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
If you aren’t already a fan of Jeffrey Eugenides’ earlier work, particularly Middlesex, resolve to make 2012 the year you become a fan. In fact, Middlesex was such a major work for me (and I am not alone in this opinion) that I have been anxiously awaiting this novel for years. It was worth the wait. The Marriage Plot was a great book, and a worthy read. My chief complaint is that it’s just not Middlesex. It’s like having one true great love and he leaves you, but his brother comes to town. Great, you think. Equally handsome, equally smart, equally wonderful, this wonderful newcomer has potential to rock your world again. But it won’t and can’t. In fact, it can never be anything but second-best. But, oh, what a lovely way to spend some time. The Marriage Plot did give me the tingle of a great read, and I loved the main characters. When the story lingered a little too long on Leonard’s mental illness, I was sooo not interested. The novel is at its best when it keeps the story on Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell, the college graduates around whom the story revolves. Each is likable in his or her own way, but supremely likable in the way that Eugenides uses them to conjure the drama of coming of age. They were people I had either known or wished I knew in college—-smart, complicated, flawed, and naive. Eugenides evokes this time in life so crisply that it feels like no effort at all to return. This one deserves its spot with you curled up by the fire.
So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
It almost seems impossible that a novel that cracks open the health care system could be so supremely readable and enjoyable, but that’s the genius of Lionel Shriver. Shep has sold his handyman company, and he is ready to leave the American Dream behind and retire in an exotic locale. Nobody, even his wife and son, are going to hold him back—sort of. Well, it would be a very short, boring book if it all worked out, so basically all manner of serious misfortune derails Shep’s dream. His wife gets a rare, fast-moving cancer, and the novel unfolds as his bank account depletes. It’s hard to watch Shep’s dream unfurl, but Shriver’s witty banter softens the blow. Did I mention that his dad is holed up in a nursing home too? And his best friend has a child with complex medical issues? Yep, Shriver is hitting the health care systems from all angles, and yet. . . it doesn’t feel contrived (90% of the time) and you can even laugh through it. The second half of the book really takes off, and you are bouncing along with it. You’ll be saving for your own private island by the end.