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Jeffrey Eugenides’ third novel, The Marriage Plot, is so sinuous that a certain type of reader is conditioned to distrust it. Anyone who knows contemporary fiction largely through postmodern inheritors like Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace might look at the plot’s love triangle among Brown grads in the early ’80s and wonder when the narrative will become as detached as the semioticians they study. Instead, quite beautifully, The Marriage Plot holds fast to the eternal questions that unsettle each of the characters, from Madeleine (what’s worth sacrificing for love?) to Leonard (where’s the line between brilliance and madness?) to Mitchell (how does God fit into all this?). Eugenides explores those questions so unselfconsciously, so un-pomo-ly, that critics have scratched their heads at bandana-wearing, depressive Leonard’s resemblance to Wallace. (Eugenides insists Axl Rose was the bandana model.) Whatever its characters’ provenance, the novel delivers the enduring satisfactions of fiction while slyly avoiding a comfortable ending.
Eugenides discusses his book at 7 p.m. at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, 600 I St. NW. $12 in advance, $15 at door, or tickets included with purchase of book at Politics & Prose Bookstore. (202) 408-3100.