The DFW Character in The Marriage Plot

An interesting post over at Slate puts some context on the supposed David Foster Wallace character in Jeffrey Eugenides’ new novel, The Marriage Plot. Eugenides says it’s unintentional:

It just got started by New York Magazine’s online Vulture site and they stated it not as a question but as a fact and it seemed to flow from that. I’m waiting for it to pass by. Now people are saying there are so many differences between [Leonard and David Foster Wallace], the basic one being that Wallace didn’t even have manic depression. I think they’re reading too much into the bandanna. I was thinking Guns N’ Roses and heavy metal guys but what can you do.

Slate’s David Haglund says that’s bullshit:

Whatever his reasons, though, Eugenides is not fooling anyone. Or shouldn’t be: Leonard clearly, undoubtedly has something to do with Wallace. In addition to all the similarities noted by Paskin (she goes well beyond the bandanna and the chewing tobacco—though, as she writes, “bandanna and chew are not common accoutrements”), Eugenides also takes words that Wallace actually said (in a 1996 profile by Frank Bruni) and puts them in the mouth of Leonard. How something like that could happen unconsciously I can’t fathom.

The rest of the post has some thoughts on why Eugenides might be doing such a thing, along with some references to Franzen and his recent book.


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There seems to be a pretty straightforward explanation here, though not quite the one Eugenides has publicly advanced. The “Leonard on Cape Cod” section of The Marriage Plot seems to belong to a different (and perhaps earlier) conception of the book – one I’m guessing would have been heavier on the lab biology and lighter on, well The Marriage Plot. The Leonard there feels to me recognizably different than the Leonard of the “A Madman in Love” novella that opens the novel – which I think was written later.

That “Madman in Love” Leonard is much more recognizably DFWesque. (And for my money richer in complexity.) So, for Eugenides, the ’90s-era GNR version of Leonard with which he began is the beginning and end of the story, but for we who read the book in order, the DFW stuff he added later (including recognizable tics and jokes (the saliva joke is also in Lipsky’s Although Of Course…, and I heard him tell it in person)) feels like a much more dominant note in Leonard’s character.

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