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Avoid Sunburn, Bask in a Good Book on Long Relaxing Weekends

Baldacci, Eugenides and a stunning debut

Book cover for The Marriage Plot, a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 2011, 416 pages
$27.99; ebook $12.99

Anyone with bittersweet longings for their young adult days will be captivated by this witty coming-of-age novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Middlesex. (Already the book's been snapped up for big-screen treatment: Think St. Elmo's Fire peopled by smart young academics on the verge of adulthood — and nervous breakdowns.)

The Marriage Plot opens on Memorial Day weekend in 1982, as cynical-yet-romantic English major Madeleine is about to graduate from Brown University (the author's alma mater). Also in line for a diploma with Madeleine is one of the two young men who've fallen in love with her: Mitchell, a sensitive religious-studies major who has spent his college career fruitlessly yearning for Madeleine.

Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Leonard, has been hospitalized for manic-depression. His illness is a demon that Madeleine will come to know well after graduation: She moves in with Leonard on Cape Cod, where he has scored a research gig to study yeast. Mitchell, for his part, is sublimating his desire in a round-the-world quest for spiritual truth — or, failing that, a clue about what to do next in life.

The Marriage Plot — likewise the title of a seminar Madeleine takes on Austen-era novels that end in a wedding — ranges smoothly over the previous four years and forward to the summer of 1983. During this span all three characters grapple with the wrenching transition from beery, self-indulgent collegiate cocoon to sobering adult duties. Some readers may decide this topic's been milked to a fare-thee-well elsewhere, but Eugenides presents the graduates' passage with enough compassion and humor to make the tale feel fresh and true for any generation.

Christina Ianzito is a writer for AARP The Magazine and

You may also like: Nora Roberts writes to her heart's content.

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