Extreme Solitude – by Jeffrey Eugenides

Week six of the 2015 Deal Me In challenge brought the six of clubs and with it the Jeffrey Eugenides story, Extreme Solitude, first published in 2010 in The New Yorker magazine. I own a digital subscription to TNY, but this story may also be read online at their url http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/06/07/extreme-solitude

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(An explanation of the Deal Me In Challenge may be found here. The complete list of stories I will be reading is here. For links to other participants’ story rosters, see the week 1 post here. If you’d like to explore other blogs that are participating in the Deal Me In challenge, see the participant links on my sidebar.)

Extreme Solitude is the story of an unhappy love affair between Madeleine (our protagonist) and Leonard. They meet in college in a Semiotics class (yeah, even though I’ve read The Da Vinci Code, I had to look that word up again) after Madeleine has spent a relatively romance-free couple years as an underclassman (the description of this period was juxtaposed quite humorously by Eugenides via the inclusion of a stereotypically promiscuous roommate). It’s not a happy story, as the affair with Leonard begins to disintegrate and lose its freshness. This, and Leonard’s callousness lead to one of the payoff passages of the story:

And it was during this period that Madeleine truly understood how the lover’s discourse was of an extreme solitude. The solitude was extreme because it wasn’t physical. It was extreme because you felt it while in the company of the person you loved. It was extreme because it was in your head, that most solitary of places.”

This story also comprises part of the later novel, The Marriage Plot.

Below: Jeffrey Eugenides (from Goodreads.com)

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A few other quotations that I liked from the story:

What made Madeleine sit up in bed was something closer to the reason she read books in the first place and had always loved them. Here was a sign that she wasn’t alone.”

Listening to Leonard, Madeleine felt impoverished by her happy childhood.”

He started finishing Madeleine’s sentences. As if her mind were too slow.

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Above – photo from “A Tree Falling” blog “Lake Solitude” in Rocky Mountain National Park.
I remember in 2002, prior to a summer trip to Colorado, poring over a topographic map of Rocky Mountain National Park – a location I’d already visited several times before – looking for new places to “explore.” I saw an isolated mountain lake with the name “solitude.” I had grand dreams of packing a lunch and going off-trail to find it some day during my visit and thus spending some time in “pure” solitude, but I chickened out and stayed on the maintained trails when I actually got to the park. Typical.

I’m also a big fan of the word “solitude.” Somehow it sounds musical to me. Maybe because certain musical works are called “preludes” or “etudes,” which rhyme with solitude. I’m also a fan of the concept of solitude in general and probably need to spend more time in that state than normal people. I suspect many readers feel the same way?

2 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    February 16, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Yes, I would agree with you. Many readers need solitude. I had not thought of the word sounding musical – but it does. Very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dee said,

    April 15, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    This is quite belated ………. but I love that you love the word solitude and are not afraid to admit it! I also love the word and the idea. It is a bit scary out in nature ….. as opposed to a familiar room or even being alone in a busy train station like in Copenhagen ……. In nature, I have felt the breath of the surrounding air – the wind – and I remember being deeply touched, uncomfortable and frightened among willows along a creek bed on a Wyoming ranch as a teen ager …. Now, being older, it seems one is supposed to accomplish something in solitude – that is, there should be an outcome …….. Hummmmm ….
    You’re a gem!

    Like


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