Letters of Life

Finding the Self in Fiction

The thing about Jeffrey Eugenides’ writing is that every paragraph has been crafted such that at least one true sentence, or one true image, resides in each. The result is that his book, The Marriage Plot, is such a satisfying read.

This excerpt describes the heroine, Madeleine, studying for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as she typically casts a wide net in preparing for the world after graduation.

She studied for the GRE using a sample booklet. The verbal section was easy. The math required brushing up on her high school algebra. The logic problems, however, were a defeat to the spirit.

“At the annual dancers’ ball a number of dancers performed their favourite dance with their favourite partners. Alan danced the tango, while Becky watched the waltz. James and Charlotte were fantastic together. Keith was magnificent during his foxtrot and Simon excelled at the rumba. Jessica danced with Alan. But Laura did not dance with Simon. Can you determine who danced with whom and which dance they each enjoyed?”

Logic wasn’t something Madeleine had been expressly taught. It seemed unfair to be asked about it. She did as the book suggested, diagramming the problems, placing Alan, Becky, James, Charlotte, Keith, Simon, Jessica, and Laura on the dance floor of her scrap paper, and pairing them according to the instructions. But their complicated transit wasn’t a subject Madeleine’s mind naturally followed. She wanted to know why James and Charlotte were fantastic together, and if Jessica and Alan were going out, and why Laura wouldn’t dance with Simon, and if Becky was upset, watching.

This is precisely how I think also.

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