I hadn’t expected to be nearly so engaged by all of this. I picked Freedom up out of a sense of duty, then read it semi-addictively and finished it in just a few days. The difference between reading Franzen firsthand and thinking about him from a distance is the difference between having a dream and trying to tell someone about it three years later. I had forgotten the special pleasures of living inside a Franzen text: the precision with which he charts the excruciating compromises of adulthood; the order he imposes on his characters’ muddled self-consciousness; the strange catharsis of self-sabotage and psychic pileups; the escalating comedy. (There’s a classic scene in which Joey, after accidentally swallowing his wedding ring, is forced to deal with the digestive consequences several days later while sharing a luxury hotel room with another woman.) Some of Freedom’s sentences are so well-written you want to pluck them out, stab them with little corn holders, and eat them: “Like a cold spring at the bottom of a warmer lake, old Swedish-gened depression was seeping up inside him.” And the stakes here feel a little higher than they did in The Corrections. Franzen seems more deeply invested in his characters’ happiness. He’s tilted the compassion:contempt ratio slightly toward the former. I found myself identifying with the book—thinking in new ways about recent events in my friends’ lives, in my own life. It made me think, many times, of one of David Foster Wallace’s favorite edicts about fiction: that the good stuff can make readers feel less lonely.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Sam Anderson on Jonathan Franzen's new novel: