Franzen’s FREEDOM – #whitepeopleepic

18 Jul

I have been bugging Cherry to read Franzen for a while now .. for a year? … she finally did and she wanted to share her musings. My response follows below:

I’m not going to suggest you drink anything when you read this book. No book has made me want to drink less. It featured joyless drunks that convince you alcohol is a catalyst for more misery. Perhaps freedom from alcoholism is the key to happiness? Or just freedom from alcoholics?

The only way to qualify this book is as a “white people epic”. Sure, there is one Indian character. But she doesn’t count. It’s about white middle class misery in America. Think about it, you would go to the section in the book store titled “White People Epics” and know what to expect: cheating, drinking, carousing, misery and small glimmers of hope. Full of first world problems! Who doesn’t like reading about first world problems packaged in lovely prose? I’m not being facetious. Everyday disappointments can be dull , but when written by Franzen, they somehow shed the tedium which we experience in our own lives. Prose can transcend the every day and make us reconsider what we do and who are and why – that is Franzen’s greatest success.

Less appealing were his oddly two dimensional female characters – yes, even Patty. While all the characters were flawed,  only the female ones were overwhelmingly tragic and all led “small” domestic lives. (No, Lalitha doesn’t count – she was more of a symbol of desire than an actual person.) The men were out in the world achieving and striving and… following the “stirring in their pants”. Maybe there was a point to that expression being used numerous times but I found it disappointing that Franzen would use an expression that would better belong in something like “50 Shades of Twilight”.

Clementine declared that this book “changed her life”! I’m not sure if I can proclaim the same, but I will let myself consider if it might be on the same level of my favourite “White People Epic”: The Marriage Plot by Eugenedies. How will I know if it is? If I am still thinking about Walter, Patty and Richard in 6 months.

 

This post is dedicated to @Alexandriandria , who requested a review of Franzen’s Freedom.

***

When I declared that the book “changed my life,” it was part hyperbole and part genuine revelation. Franzen opened my eyes to human behaviour that was so self-destructive and people who worked really hard to make themselves and those around them unhappy. I guess it gave me a bit of perspective at a time when I was feeling isolated and overwhelmed by my work. My life was not nearly as dramatic/ bad. Cherry and I had an interesting conversation about how the Richard-Patty-Walter love triangle might have been a way for Franzen to work out his experiences in love as a young man.  I didn’t really like any of the characters except, as Cherry pointed out, Franzen’s prose is intoxicating. You don’t even mind dragging around a hardbound copy of this tome as you’re out and about. Another revelation: men who marry brilliant/ intelligent women (who are leaders in their field/ industry) NEVER reconcile the woman they initially married (whom they place on a pedestal) with the mother and (inevitable) housewife they become. They end up hating these women. Sad.

Franzen was a respite from a string of mediocre books so it did change my life! I will continue imposing Freedom on others who haven’t read it yet because I want someone to tell me what they think Patty/Walter/Richard look like!!!!!!

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One Response to “Franzen’s FREEDOM – #whitepeopleepic”

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  1. I Don’t Want Your Freedom - September 3, 2013

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