Excerpt from The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Marriage Plot

A Novel

By Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2011,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2012,
    464 pages.

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"By the Van Wickle Gates. At the top of College Street. That's where we'll come through."

Alton stood up from the table. After shaking Mitchell's hand, he bent to kiss Madeleine on the cheek. "We'll see you later. Miss Baccalaureate, 1982."

"Congratulations, Mitchell," Phyllida said. "So nice to see you. And remember, when you're on your Grand Tour, be sure to send your mother loads of letters. Otherwise, she'll be frantic."

To Madeleine, she said, "You might change that dress before the march. It has a visible stain."

With that, Alton and Phyllida, in their glaring parental actuality, all seersucker and handbag, cuff links and pearls, crossed the beige-and-brick space of Carr House and went out the door.

As though to signal their departure, a new song came on: Joe Jackson's high-pitched voice swooping above a synthesized drumbeat. The guy behind the counter cranked up the volume.

Madeleine laid her head on the table, her hair covering her face.

"I'm never drinking again," she said.

"Famous last words."

"You have no idea what's been going on with me."

"How could I? You haven't been speaking to me."

Without lifting her cheek from the table, Madeleine said in a pitiful voice, "I'm homeless. I'm graduating from college and I'm a homeless person."

"Yeah, sure."

"I am!" Madeleine insisted. "First I was supposed to move to New York with Abby and Olivia. Then it looked like I was moving to the Cape, though, so I told them to get another roommate. And now I'm not moving to the Cape and I have nowhere to go. My mother wants me to move back home but I'd rather kill myself."

"I'm moving back home for the summer," Mitchell said. "To Detroit. At least you're near New York."

"I haven't heard back from grad school yet and it's June," Madeleine continued. "I was supposed to find out over a month ago! I could call the admissions department, but I don't because I'm scared to find out that I've been rejected. As long as I don't know, I still have hope."

There was a moment before Mitchell spoke again. "You can come to India with me," he said.

Madeleine opened one eye to see, through a whorl in her hair, that Mitchell wasn't entirely joking.

"It's not even about grad school," she said. Taking a deep breath, she confessed, "Leonard and I broke up."

It felt deeply pleasurable to say this, to name her sadness, and so Madeleine was surprised by the coldness of Mitchell's reply.

"Why are you telling me this?" he said.

She lifted her head, brushing her hair out of her face. "I don't know. You wanted to know what was the matter."

"I didn't, actually. I didn't even ask."

"I thought you might care," Madeleine said. "Since you're my friend."

"Right," Mitchell said, his voice suddenly sarcastic. "Our wonderful friendship! Our 'friendship' isn't a real friendship because it only works on your terms. You set the rules, Madeleine. If you decide you don't want to talk to me for three months, we don't talk. Then you decide you do want to talk to me because you need me to entertain your parents - and now we're talking again. We're friends when you want to be friends, and we're never more than friends because you don't want to be. And I have to go along with that."

"I'm sorry," Madeleine said, feeling put-upon and blindsided. "I just don't like you that way."

"Exactly!" Mitchell cried. "You're not attracted to me physically. O.K., fine. But who says I was ever attracted to you mentally?"

Madeleine reacted as if she'd been slapped. She was outraged, hurt, and defiant all at once.

"You're such a" - she tried to think of the worst thing to say - "you're such a jerk!" She was hoping to remain imperious, but her chest was stinging, and, to her dismay, she burst into tears.

Mitchell reached out to touch her arm, but Madeleine shook him off. Getting to her feet, trying not to look like someone angrily weeping, she went out the door and down the steps onto Waterman Street. Confronted by the festive churchyard, she turned downhill toward the river. She wanted to get away from campus. Her headache had returned, her temples were throbbing, and as she looked up at the storm clouds massing over downtown like more bad things to come, she asked herself why everyone was being so mean to her.

Excerpted from The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Copyright © 2011 by Jeffrey Eugenides. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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