Loved it. I listened to the audiobook and got completely sucked into the story, the characters, every time I plugged in. I've been tiring of the post-Flaubertian, descriptive, painterly style of literary writers lately, and it seemed that Franzen was trying to achieve a work that eschewed that in favor of a style that made the prose almost disappear out from under you as you traveled along the path of the story. I had to keep reminding myself that this was artifice, invention, and to try to pay attention to the artistic decisions he was making, but it proved virtually impossible, it was like he wasn't even there, behind the narration, making decisions at all, as if the story were telling itself. Some accuse him of writing a book that was too easy (there was a Harry Potter dis on another thread), but I think that's quite an achievement.
Brad, you said elsewhere that you and your wife and many "shocks of recognition", where you felt that Franzen was describing people you knew. Did you feel that with "The Corrections"? I got that many times in "The Corrections", so much so that I was very depressed for several days after finishing it. I was expecting to get that here, and I realized about 50 pages in that I wasn't going to. I kept thinking that Franzen doesn't know what it's like to lead a life focused on the physical, rather than the intellectual.
I also feel like Franzen can only do one kind of character. Smart, narcissistic, self-loathing, depressive, prone to putting on a good face for the world, and engaging in socially inappropriate behavior in secret.
For instance, I was really annoyed that Walter basically killed the neighbor's cat, given that Patty had slashed Connie's tires earlier. They were the same action dressed up differently. You can make an argument that since most of the characters were related to each other, or had lived together, that they would be somewhat similar, but it grated in particular that the right-wing woman at the end thought in *exactly the same way* as Walter, Patty, Joey, Katz, and on and on ad infinitum did. Her politics were different, but her spite and her assessment of her battle position were exactly the same.
I also couldn't quite buy that someone as smart and mature as Walter would be engaged in these quixotic schemes to save the planet. During the Free Space startup conversation, when he said it would be great if women would simply double the age at which they first start having children, from (I think) 18 to 36, I couldn't tell if the reader was supposed to recognize how ridiculous that is (and thus, realize that Walter was being ridiculous, and see him as a kook), or if Franzen actually thinks this is a good idea. (For the record: in the US, the average age of the first child has gone up steadily for quite some time, and is certainly not 18; given the current trends, it's likely that the US will eventually follow Europe, and go to negative population growth; speaking as a childless woman in her 30s, having a child after 35 raises the baby's health risks considerably; and finally, of course the real place to attack overpopulation is places where it's still commonplace for a women to have ten children, which is not the US).
Also, I *liked* how tortured "The Corrections" was. Franzen told a much tighter, neater story here, but I think that made it trite. Like Lalitha dying, I can't quite put my finger on it, but it made her entire character seem like a monstrously contrived plot device. I guess because Walter and Patty got back together (again, *ridiculous*, this never happens in real life, but happens all the time in bad fiction), and that plot turn wouldn't have been possible unless she died.
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I thoroughly enjoyed The Corrections, despite feeling that Chip was a cheap shot stereotype of an academic (a bad teacher, and virtually no professors make the mistake of actually sleeping with students in their classes any more), and despite the fact that nobody gets "corrected" in the end. There were scenes of pure comic genius, whereas I didn't laugh out loud once with Freedom.
I think your points about Freedom are interesting, I can see why you feel as you do. I can't really refute them except to say I enjoyed the book so I'm willing to cut it some slack. There are weak and implausible places in Dostoevsky too, but he's still my favorite novelist.
That's all I can say now because my wife has forbidden me from wasting anymore time discussing Freedom online. I'll be reading your posts with interest though. I'm indebted to you for rescuing me from those savages on the Zash thread. Hope you have better luck getting an actual discussion of the book going here.
Lalitha is a big stumbling block for me too. Why did she die? The association between her professional effectiveness and her over-confidence behind the wheel is established early on; is she a tragic character? Is this a warning to all of us who are professionally successful? Or, is the warning only: If you're competent and confident, ferxrissake don't drive in West Virginia where stupid trucks kill innocent people on the highways - and where life is cheap, I guess? [Hat tip to Marty Peretz - hope he's having major heartburn today!]
Or, is it deus ex machina because the plot needs a goose? I have no problem seeing L as one of those Star Trek crewmen who can be turned into a cube of salt when the plot demands it ...
By the way, do you think L was subcontinental in the first draft of the novel? That just seemed to be noise to me (but even noise is better than silence, no?) I wonder if a reader or editor didn't advise JF that the cardboard character in that position needed some distinction or peculiarity to fend off the snoozes for the reader....
So: no reason to be Indian, and no reason for her to die, as I see it. You?
Well, she's the only non-white in the novel, and she's still pretty white. =) I thought the descriptions of her body were interesting, since they do describe a certain body type unique to indian women (narrow and almost tubular, with boobs stuck on the front; often very beautiful).
I actually found Lalitha to be an interesting character until she turned herself into an embarrassing plot point. I think Franzen was illustrating to a certain degree with Walter the occasional absurdity of the elite liberal position, where you neither like nor respect the people you're ostensibly saving. I'm going to get some hate here, but I think "What's the Matter With Kansas" illustrates this perfectly. How arrogant to presume that people must be stupid or hoodwinked if they don't vote the way you want them to. So I liked that her liberalism was described as pragmatic and humanistic while Walter's was abstract and misanthropic. And I liked her discussion with Walter about nature, how she didn't see it as peaceful (I agree) the way he did.
However, I don't think that Lalitha was a character in her own right. She existed as a foil to Walter, and also to present Walter with the conundrum in the title: the pain of being able to choose between what he desired and what he believed in.
On another topic, I couldn't believe that Joey married his stalker. I wanted Franzen to narrate her inner monologue, because I've never met anyone like her. I know that Joey's reasons for breaking up were selfish, but sheesh, I really wanted him to so that she could develop a personality of her own. She was creepy, the fact that they stayed married was creepy. I shudder to think what kind of children they spawned.
Holy mackerel! I don't see Connie as a stalker IN ANY WAY! She's a woman who decided what she wanted and waited for it. What 'freedom' did Connie have? Joey had all the freedom and sure realized it! The only moving scene in the book for me was when Connie gave Joey her inheritance - that was the one exercise of real 'freedom' in the entire novel, so perhaps Connie was ultimately the central character, at least for me. I compare her to Updike's Pru, although Pru wins the comparison (as do all Updike's characters).
No personality? Their children? If Joey would just die or go away, I think Connie will do just fine.
Huh. You don't think it's weird that she knew what she wanted when she was... ten years old? And never wavered? I thought she acted more like a beaten dog than a person. And Patty was right, couples SHOULD argue at least occasionally. You didn't think the fact that she went to college so she could be Joey's assistant someday wasn't the tiniest bit odd?
I meant in terms of their children, I can't imagine how twisted they would end up when the mother worships the father, never has an opinion different from his, never questions his actions, never considers doing something just for herself. She was like half a person.
@Hydro: I'll refer back to your wish for Connie's inner dialog. On the other thread, I cited a well-known radio interview now out in the cloud somewhere of Antonin Scalia, in which, asked about what he does when his wife disagrees with him, he responds blithely "My wife agrees with me on everything." What a buffoon! (I assume Mrs Scalia plays him like a fiddle and probably has a cello on the side for a little diversion.)
How is it that Connie didn't get pregnant - intentionally or 'accidentally' - at 12 or 14 or 17? It wasn't Joey! There's much more to a Connie than Franzen even suspects. A sequel about Connie might actually get me to read him again... but probably not. Maybe he can hire a ghost-writer to do it?
I'm not going to vouch for the health of Scalia's marriage. Maybe his wife knows how to keep the peace, or maybe she's a doormat, I don't know. And I don't doubt that there wasn't more to Connie, but that doesn't mean she wasn't stalkerish. I'm sure stalkers can be bright, interesting individuals too - they just have an unhealthy obsession with someone.
I think just as Joey planned to meet "better" girls in college, Connie was meant to meet better boys. Isn't Connie just as culpable as Joey for the truck purchasing debacle? She didn't tell him it was a bad idea. She *financed* it. If Joey had come back triumphantly laid and $600K richer, would Connie have ever suggested to him about that maybe it's immoral to send American soldiers crappy equipment that might get them killed? Would it even have occurred to her?
I didn't have a problem with Lalitha adoring Walter because she was older and had developed opinions of her own. She was his teammate. Connie was more like a sock puppet. A sentient, eerie sock puppet that grafts onto your hand and you can never be free of.
I think because otherwise Walter and Patty would not have been able to get back together. She became inconvenient to the plot once Walter chose her, and Franzen apparently wanted something quick and final. Not a good choice, IMO.
I shouldn't be doing this, but gotta weigh in on Connie. Tell me if I"m wrong, but I think, unless our friends are happily married, part of us secretly wants them to break up with their boy/girl-friends, for mostly selfish reasons. We want them to be "free" to experience exciting new people, people we might like better than the ones they're with, and we also want them to be free so they're more there for us, for what we want out of them and for them.
Franzen makes us feel this way about Joey. We feel Connie as suffocating, agree with Patty that she should "get a life." We know how good looking he is, so part of us wants him to be free to experience all the wild college sex we wish we could experience.
But then there's the phone call about her affair with her boss, another piece of moving dialogue I think Zashibis totally misses, and the way she yells for joy and runs to him at the buss station before they buy the ring and how happy that makes him feel, and then way Joey's roommate, Jonathan, finally teaches us to see her from someone else's eyes who's not prejudiced against her the way we are, and how we learn that she's continued sending Patty birthday cards, and how despite her quietness, she sees EVERYTHING about her mother and Blake's personalities and shortcomings and nails them in another bit of inspired dialogue.
We finally begin to realize that we've been duped by our cynical sides into hating her when Joey decides to stop fighting his typical consumer desire to experience his "freedom" (i.e., to sample more products off the shelf and toss her aside like she isn't a real human worthy of being loved back). We realize he DOES love her, has all along, and if he'd just stop listening to the jerks like us in his head he could be incredibly happy with a woman like this whose love for him is so deep and abiding.
Can't anyone who's been through a divorce or failed relationship see what a gold mine Connie would be to love? Once I see how happy they are through Patty's final narrative, once I put myself in Joey's shoes with the knowledge that she's actually a beautiful, true and immensely loving person, I feel happy for them and am glad Joey gave up his "freedom" to be with someone who'd be so easy to make happy and would always make him happy in return if he'd only let her. I think it's a beautifully unique and moving love story. I love her by the end and feel ashamed of having dissed her in my head all along.
I don't want to repeat myself too many times, but it wasn't that Connie wasn't a complex person. I would have liked a section narrated by her. What I found creepy was her single-minded obsession with Joey. I don't think it's healthy to be in a God/worshipper relationship. I think it's bad for BOTH parties.
Would you really want a spouse like that? Someone who NEVER challenged you, someone who was always available when you wanted them, and went away when you didn't? Someone with no interests outside of you? That's an infant's experience of maternal love, not love between two adults.
@hydro: You're right about 'the pill'; I stand corrected.
I've tried to argue that there *are* people who carry the outward appearance that Connie does, but I sure don't know any of them myself, so I'll readily drop it. And like you I would go nuts in a relationship like that, but the phenomenon of 'mail-order brides' suggests that many wouldn't.
Hydro. My sense of Connie is that she'll be a much happier person and start branching out more if she can just be with the man she loves, but she's certainly not perfect and has growing to do, as do all the characters. If Joey can love her back, I think they'll be as happy as a couple can be, but they're young, so there's almost certainly hard time ahead. I don't think she's a role model, but I find her a touching character. I would have liked a whole chapter from her point of view though, and from Jessica's.
@Clem Correct. He is silly. Next question: In light of the fact that this book is 576 pages too long, and Mr. Franzen will be engaging on a book tour, using plane travel no doubt, what do we make of his concern for impending ecological disaster? Plus, is he really any better than a cute little kittycat?
I'm sure he's buying offsetting ecological credits and hating himself for every second of it. His characters hate themselves (and everyone else) for their weaknesses, know that hatred doesn't change anything, and hate themselves all the more. Very Eggers.
I did find myself wondering if he himself hates cats, or if he loves cats and was trying to imagine the internal life of a cat hater. I'm more of a dog person myself, but I grew up with cats, and they love - LOVE - being outside. That annoyed me too. Cats don't have a "slight" preference for being outside. Cats will spend most of their time outside if given the chance. You can make an argument that it's bad for the environment or dangerous for the cat, but don't pretend they don't put the "Great" in "Great Outdoors".