Intense Romance In “The Marriage Plot” & Fascinating World of “The City Inside”

A LitStack Rec

by Lauren Alwan & Sharon Browning

In this LitStack Rec: Experience the heartbreak and triumphs of romance in The Marriage Plot, a thought-provoking novel that will challenge your perceptions of relationships and make you question the very nature of modern romance. Be mesmerized by The City Inside, a fascinating exploration of urban life, identity, and the hidden realities that lie beneath the surface. With its vivid imagery and compelling characters, this novel will transport you to a world where cityscapes come alive and secrets are waiting to be unveiled.

the marriage plot and the city inside book covers

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides

“Heartbreak is funny to everyone but the heartbroken.” That reflection comes early in Jeffrey Eugenides’ lively novel, The Marriage Plot. The observation is made by Madeleine Hanna, one of three central characters, all of whom are students at Brown University. We meet them on the morning of graduation in 1982: liberal arts undergrads about to enter the post-grad world.

Eugenides, himself a graduate of Brown, won the Pulitzer Prize for his second novel, Middlesex, is also the author of a debut novel, The Virgin Suicides, a seventies set piece adapted for film by Sofia Coppola, and a 2017 story collection, Fresh Complaint.

Marriage as a Meta Plot Device

Of The Marriage Plot, the title refers to the literary device in which a story ends in matrimony, a happy plot reversal after protracted obstacles of (typically) misunderstanding, separation, and interlopers. It’s a trope that’s ingrained in western literature—think Austen, Eliot, the Bronte sisters—and a plot turn that, in the 20th century, has migrated to film, defined by those proverbial kisses at the final frame.

At the center of The Marriage Plot is the romantic triad of Madeleine, Mitchell Grammaticus, the wayward philosophy major, and Leonard Bankhead, a brilliant but troubled biology brainiac. The two suitors are temperamental opposites, and Madeleine’s love for Victoriana and nineteenth-century novels is a foil to them both. All three are romantics, but how and why they seek the intensity of romance makes the novel’s character-driven story a page-turner.

“In Madeleine’s face was a stupidity Mitchell had never seen before. It was the stupidity of all normal people. It was the stupidity of the fortunate and the beautiful, of everybody who got what they wanted in life and so remained unremarkable.”

A Prose Stylist Who Entertains

Eugenides’ prose dances along doing amazing things, all while providing entertaining, intelligent reading that reveal deeper truths. As a stylist, Eugenides fills his prose to the brim. Plot, character, insight, books, love, loss, eighties music, and woven into it all is Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse, that classic of eighties academia (I dug out my copy and took a sentimental journey through the highlighted sections). There is a richness to The Marriage Plot, not only in its meta-layering of books about books but of the gentle conceit that love, though well portrayed in books, is difficult to capture with any real clarity in life.

—Lauren Alwan

About The Author Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot author Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides, an author from the United States, has penned a variety of short stories and essays in addition to three novels. His works include The Virgin Suicides (1993), Middlesex (2002), and The Marriage Plot (2011). The novel The Virgin Suicides was adapted into a film in 1999. Meanwhile, Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2003 and was also shortlisted for several other prestigious awards such as the National Book Critics Circle Award, the International Dublin Literary Award, and France’s Prix Médicis.

Other Titles by Jeffrey Eugenides

The City Inside, by Samit Basu

I enjoyed reading this speculative fiction set in the near future. It has a slow and gradual build-up while exploring the manipulation of entire realities through a disturbingly familiar cultural acceptance.

Rating Algorithms, Product Placement and Titillation

Joey is a Reality Controller in Delhi, and her client Indi (who also is her longtime friend and college ex) is one of the fastest rising online stars in South Asia. While Indi churns out content on his Flow, Joey is the one who orchestrates and packages it, all the time spinning authenticity even as she folds in public opinion, rating algorithms, product placement and titillation.

But while Joey is a master at what she does, she has no idea who she is. Her work with the Flow is decisive and her business acumen is remarkable, but when it comes to her private life, she is stalled between visualizing what she wants and doing anything to attain it.

Rudra is a reclusive gamer, the younger son of a friend of Joey’s father. While Rudra has been estranged from his powerful family for years, his father’s death pulls him back in; only an impulsive job offer from Joey seems to offer him a way out. But power is not created in a vacuum and an ever-widening ripple of conspiracies soon threatens not only Rudra, but Joey, as well – and far beyond the two of them.

Fascinating Characters, Cerebral and Calculated Action

The characters in The City Inside are fascinating, and the action is cerebral and calculated, but what will really grip you is the worldbuilding itself. In the here and now, the reach of social media is vast but still steeped in entertainment, with viral posts, ranting political platforms, drama-laden power plays and instant celebrities as spectacle, and the hint that anyone can be seen and heard is intoxicating.

In Samit Basu’s world, social media has become intrinsic to society at all levels; not just with the focus itself, but in the influence that is spun off that focus. The manipulation of influence is in plain sight and accepted; what is virtual is so universally embraced that the deeper wrangling for control becomes even more devious, more insidious, more dangerous.

Yet along with this superficial societal landscape, Badu also has retained a very human, very personal aspect to his story that not only keeps us grounded, but allows us to care about what is happening not only to his characters, but also the world around them. His depiction of Delhi is built on his own, very real experiences, and the network of family and tradition, of cultural and social images – the very invoking of sounds and tastes and smells – is genuine and incredibly strong.

Joey’s relationship with her parents was especially compelling; she is modern and at the apex of her influence, yet still goes to see her parents every week despite resenting it; she loves them and acknowledges what they have been through even as she finds them peevish and in her own mind dismisses them (but less than she thinks). This feels so very real.

A Slow-Burn Puzzle

This book is an exciting slow burn, while there may not be a climactic triumph, it is entirely engrossing – much like a colorful puzzle where watching the moving parts is as much fun as the solving. But this puzzle also feels strangely familiar, and potentially dangerous. Is this where we will find ourselves in the years to come?

Indeed, a very interesting read. Entirely a must read if you love puzzles.

—Sharon Browning

About the Author Samit Basu

The City Inside author Samit Basu

Samit Basu, an Indian author recognized for his contributions to science fiction and fantasy genres, recently released The Jinn-Bot of Shantiport through Tordotcom in the US and Canada on October 23. This novel has been shortlisted for the Locus Award (Science Fiction) 2024 and is a contender for the Goodreads Choice Award (Best Science Fiction) 2023.

Another of his works, The City Inside, is an anti-dystopian narrative set in Delhi a decade into the future, was published by Tordotcom in 2022. It earned spots on The Washington Post and Book Riot‘s Best SFF books of 2022 lists. Initially released in India as Chosen Spirits by Simon and Schuster India in 2020, it was also shortlisted for The JCB Prize for Literature.

Other Titles by Samit Basu

Other LitStack Resources

Be sure and look at our other LitStack Recs for our recommendations on books you should read, as well as these reviews by Lauren Alwan.

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You can find and buy the books we recommend at the LitStack Bookshop on our list of LitStack Recs.

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