This month we tackle the post-graduate slump and the perils found within. Both our novels – Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot and Nicholl’s One Day – follow relationships begun in college to explore a variety of challenges – both literary and practical – that face the post baby boomer generations.
Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot is an intense book, one that harks back to the glory days of the “idea novel,” novels that weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty with discussions of religion, relationships, the role of literature and other perennial questions of the human condition. Oh, and to add real icing to the cake, it also has an absorbing plot. For those of you who are tired of the post-modern novel that drones on about “experience” without anything major happening will be delighted with this pick. In addition to following the relationship hijinks of Madeline Hanna and her efforts to find her place in the world after graduating from Brown, Eugenides also makes a strong argument for the value of reading literature itself versus reading books about literature. The subtle criticisms of the “lit crit” crowd were particularly hilarious. Eugenides makes us remember what it is like to read a challenging, thought-provoking book that is as precise in its evocation of time and place as it is in its ability to capture the major issues of that time into a digestible, revealing portrait.
On the other hand, Nicholl’s One Day is the version of the story without the in-depth social commentary and assessment of literature. Like Madeline, Mitchell, and Leonard in Eugenides’ novel, Dexter and Emma have graduated without many plans. Touching base with them on the same day for the next two decades, Nicholls explores their development, issues, and seeming inability to “get it together.” Some have argued that the ‘one day’ technique is disjointed and hinders deep understanding of the characters, to which I say: “utter nonsense.” This method allows Nicholls to move quickly though Emma and Dexter’s life, to follow the trajectory of their long and very confused relationship, in a timely, yet precise manner. The result is not only a complete picture of a single relationship between two millenials, but a convincing representation of a generation. For the children of baby boomers who have never known want (though I suspect we might catch up now) and were cosseted with promises of grand lives post college with glitzy careers, tons of money, and never-ending praise, the real world is like a bath of ice water. Nicholls’ Emma and Dexter are perfect examples of how difficult it is to come to terms with one’s own “average-ness” and how growing up can be a painful process.