Sunday, October 31, 2010
Free At Last!
In 2001, The Corrections by Franzen came out with a similar media flurry. Everyone was talking about it, from the New York Times to Oprah, and I had to read it! When I finished that book I was also disappointed. I had expected it to be life changing, but the only change was my realization that compared to the Lambert family, my family was really not all that screwed up after all. But then, I kept thinking about The Corrections over the ensuing years, and finally, in 2009, I re-read it and I really liked it. I think that maybe my expectations were too high when I first read it, and then when I re-read it I could see it for the great piece of literature that it actually is. My feeling at this point, however, is that Freedom is not nearly as good as The Corrections.
While reading The Corrections, I felt a bit like a malevolent grandmother, changing her last will and testament from month to month based on which of her grandchildren is "best". The three adult children in the novel, Denise, Chip, and Gary, all took their turns being at the top, and at the bottom, of the best kid list. They all made supremely stupid decisions that impacted years of their lives. But, unlike the characters in Freedom, they all also made good decisions, and you could feel that at the heart of the matter, they were all good people who had complicated relationships with their parents, siblings, and significant others.
I was disappointed with the way the characters are developed in Freedom. Even Walter and Patty, the husband and wife who are the main characters, are sort of one dimensional. Jessica, Richard, Lalitha, and Patty's siblings are all weakly characterized, and only Richard is really necessary to the story. The development of Patty is through her "autobiography", which takes up about 200 pages of Freedom. Supposedly, Patty's therapist asks her to write about her life, and that autobiography becomes part of the novel. What bothers me about this is that throughout the autobiography, Patty refers to herself as "Patty" and the voice of the story teller is no different from the voice of the narrator for the rest of Freedom. In the second part of the autobiography, Franzen, through Patty, weakly apologizes for the limited use of first or second person, claiming that athletes, like Patty, always refer to themselves in the third person. This comes off to me as lame, and I think that the autobiography could have been improved if Franzen had taken two days or two weeks or two months to re-write it with a different voice, with Patty speaking of herself as "I".
It also seemed to me as if Franzen found that he was writing characters that even he could not like, and that a change had to be made. Up until Joey asks his dad, Walter, for help, somewhere around page 350, all of the characters are making bad decisions that don't seem consistent with their proclaimed visions of their selves. Then, all of a sudden, when Joey asks for help, everything turns, and everyone starts getting along. Maybe I've read the book too recently, and it will make more sense to me later, but for now, that turn is too awkward, and too complete.
My other problem with the book, is that some inner part of me is a conspiracy theorist, and I can't help but think that this whole book is propaganda for a fight against overpopulation. In Freedom, Walter is very concerned about fighting global overpopulation, and he comes up with a plan to fund a campaign against it. The plan is that his friend, Richard, who is a rock star, will get other rock stars together to get young adults (i.e. people without kids yet) to start talking about overpopulation. He feels that if he can just get overpopulation back onto nationwide consciousness, people will talk about it, and begin to take steps to address the problem. Hear me out here. Isn't Franzen, himself, really playing the role of Richard, in using his star power to get his readers talking about overpopulation? Do you think Oprah could also be into fighting overpopulation? She doesn't have any kids. . .and how else could you explain her picking this book, as soon as it came out, even after Franzen so blatantly snubbed her when she picked The Corrections?
All I can say is stay tuned to this blog, and if Freedom has the same power to stay in my thoughts as The Corrections does, then 7 or 8 years from now I will re read it, and apologize for my earlier (i.e. current) ignorance.
Next up: Columbine by Dave Cullen
Listening to: Yes, after The Memory Keeper's Daughter ended, I missed listening to something in the car! My kids are at different schools now, so as part of my chauffeur duties, I spend about 45 minutes in the car alone each day after dropping off and before picking up kids. So, now I am listening to The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, and I am really liking it!