The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides. It’s been a while since Middlesex, Eugenides’ Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel about the life of a Greek man with intersex characteristics. The Marriage Plot is another big novel. It follows the lives of three characters for a year or two as they graduate from university and figure out what to do next.
At Brown University, Madeleine has studied the marriage plot in the work of Austen and other early novelists. Leonard has done biology and philosophy. Mitchell has discovered religion. The next chapter of their lives begins with the big question: what to do after graduation? Through their struggles to define themselves and find their places, Eugenides gives us the world in 1982 in microcosm. And the mating dance is of course part of the coming of age story: as with the marriage plot in more traditional novels, there is a triangle: Mitchell loves Madeleine; Madeleine loves Leonard.
Time and place and social mores are captured perfectly in Eugenides’ clear prose. Here is Providence on the morning of the graduation ceremonies:
Early June, Providence, Rhode Island, the sun up for almost two hours already, lighting up the pale bay and the smokestacks of the Narragansett Electric factory, rising like the sun on the Brown University seal emblazoned on all the pennants and banners draped up over campus, a sun with a sagacious face, representing knowledge. But this sun — the one over Providence — was doing the metaphorical sun one better, because the founders of the university, in their Baptist pessimism, had chosen to depict the light of knowledge enshrouded by clouds, indicating that ignorance had not yet been dispelled from the human realm, whereas the actual sun was just now fighting its way through cloud cover, sending down splintered beams of light and giving hope to the squadrons of parents, who’d been soaked and frozen all weekend, that the unseasonable weather might not ruin the day’s festivities.
And here are the students in a semiotics class, sizing each other up:
Semiotics 211 was limited to ten students. Of the ten, eight had taken Introduction to Semiotic Theory. This was visually apparent at the first class meeting. Lounging around the seminar table, when Madeleine came into the room from the wintry weather outside, were eight people in black T-shirts and ripped black jeans. A few had razored off the necks or sleeves of their T-shirts. There was something creepy about one guy’s face — it was like a baby’s that had grown whiskers — and it took Madeleine a full minute to realize that he’d shaved off his eyebrows. Everyone in the room was so spectral-looking that Madeleine’s natural healthiness seemed suspect, like a vote for Reagan. She was relieved, therefore, when a big guy in a down jacket and snowmobile boots showed up and took the empty seat next to her. He had a cup of take-out coffee.
Zipperstein asked the students to introduce themselves and explain why they were taking the seminar.
The boy without eyebrows spoke up first. “Um, let’s see. I’m finding it hard to introduce myself, actually, because the whole idea of social introductions is so problematized. Like, if I tell you that my name is Thurston Meems and that I grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, will you know who I am? O.K. My name’s Thurston and I’m from Stamford, Connecticut. I’m taking this course because I read Of Grammatology last summer and it blew my mind.” When it was the turn of the boy next to Madeleine, he said in a quiet voice that he was a double major (biology and philosophy) and had never taken a semiotics course before, that his parents had named him Leonard, that it had always seemed pretty handy to have a name, especially when you were being called to dinner, and that if anyone wanted to call him Leonard he would answer to it.
An afternoon of violas da gamba, lute, and tenor voice in Perchance to Dreame: The Golden Age of English Music at West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Centre. Gambists (as I now know to call them) Susie Napper and Margaret Little and lute player Sylvain Bergeron produced some beautiful, stately music, along with tenor Charles Daniels.
In the intimate setting of the small studio theatre, members of the audience get to study the appearance of the musicians as well as listen to them. Each of the musicians in this concert was interesting to look at, but Sylvain Bergeron might have been designed as the perfect lutenist. He is tall, slim, and aristocratic-looking with silver hair and a noble profile. I admit this added to my pleasure in the concert …
This was the heavenly dessert with a very long name (Valrhona Manjari Dark Chocolate Cream Cup with Marzipan and Brandied Black Cherries Cherry Compote) that nicely finished off a Dine Out Vancouver menu at the Dockside Restaurant on Granville Island. For my appetizer I had Dungeness Crab and Corn Bisque, with a rich, densely flavourful seafood base. For the main course, I went for the vegetarian option: Grilled Leek and Carrot Wrapped Quinoa Butternut Squash and Almond Hash. With asparagus and shallots on yellow tomato coulis. Absolutely delicious, with a great mix of textures.
What a splendid week! I am left slavering over the book, the music (and musician) and that dessert.
Dessert looks divine. And yes, Sylvain Bergeron is not only a wonderful musician but pretty easy on the eyes as well…