The form of the very brief review is working well for me these days, so I’ll do it again.
First, The Marriage Plot. I liked it just fine. But, but … I wanted to like it more than that and so felt a little disappointed. It’s a very absorbing story, and I read the novel quickly. Ultimately, though, I didn’t think it was doing anything terribly interesting. It was good but not great. I guess I don’t think the question the novel asks — what happens to the marriage plot in the modern age when marriage is so embattled? — is all that interesting. Forms of the marriage plot still exist, but it is radically changed and becomes something more like the relationship plot. But this is something tons of novels explore, right? I did like all the novel’s bookishness, Madeleine’s literature and theory courses and her obsession with A Lover’s Discourse. And I liked Mitchell and his religious explorations. I thought the ending was satisfying as well.
Also, Mariana, by Monica Dickens. Again, I liked it just fine, and again, it was good but not great. The story is episodic, recounting scenes from the main character Mary’s life from her girlhood up through her (early or mid?) adult years. She visits the country, she goes to school, she gets “engaged” as a child to a boy who takes the “engagement” much less seriously than she does, she slowly comes to face more grown-up worries. What makes the novel’s structure more interesting is the opening scene, which shows her as an adult during World War II waiting to find out whether her husband was drowned or not. After this, we move back into her girlhood and don’t find out what happened to the husband — or even who the husband is — until the novel’s end. This created enough suspense and interest to keep me going. The novel was charming and fun, but not something I was in a mood to fall in love with.
I’ve been in a mood to read fiction that’s a little more experimental and strange and not likely to be the kind of perfectly competent but not very exciting novel I’ve read recently, so I picked up David Foster Wallace’s short story collection Oblivion, and even though I’m not loving that book either, it is closer to what I’ve wanted. It is strange, certainly.