Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot is not the topic of this blog post. My having finished the reading for the project I mentioned a little while back is. I did start The Marriage Plot during a break in my reading when I couldn’t get the book I needed next from the library, and I wanted something new to read during an afternoon sick in bed. I’m about halfway through it, but I put it down to finish the “project.”
I had picked up the first novel for the “project” in the library on a whim. I thought it would be interesting to write about, but first I wanted to see what else the author wrote. It turned out that while the first book was interesting (and brief), and the second was long and in a genre that was really not my kind of thing but a good read, the third was simply long. The more I read it (and it took me a long time, since I could only read at most a chapter or two a day, which can’t have helped), the more I felt that (to paraphrase Wayne Booth) the implied author of this novel was someone I really did not want to spend time with.
So when I finished, finally, the thought that passed through my head was, “I’m glad that’s over.” That reminded me of the lines from T.S. Eliot (in the third section of “The Waste Land,” which he gave the title, “The Fire Sermon"):
She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
"Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over."
The title of the post is from the same poem, and does almost seem appropriate (surely goatees are over by now). And while Jeffrey Eugenides and his narrators are probably as far from being the young man carbuncular as can be imagined, I don’t think the idea of the author of a book as a person who is in the room with a reader, for as long as the book’s being read, is a bad one. The idea of an author being a seducer, much less a rapist, maybe not, though.
Again looking for something light to read, I picked up a fairly recent collection of stories by Ursula Le Guin, Changing Planes, in the children’s section. I like this passage, from the introductory story:
On the airplane, everyone is locked into a seat with a belt and can move only during very short periods when they are allowed to stand in line waiting to empty their bladders until, just before they reach the toilet cubicle, a nagging loudspeaker harries them back to belted immobility. In the airport, luggage-laden people rush hither and yon through endless corridors, like souls to each of whom the devil has furnished a different, inaccurate map of the escape routes from hell. These rushing people are watched by people who sit in plastic seats bolted to the floor and who might just as well be bolted to the seats.
The passage is a good example of how Le Guin combines fiction that’s very interested in ideas with very precise, nearly pictorial descriptions. She can sometimes be a little too abstract for my taste when she is narrating ordinary stories, but so far the pieces in this book are brief explorations of related ideas, for which her ability to describe people and places with pinpoint accuracy is very well suited.