His motives aren’t purely mercenary: he also yearns to impress the Straussian’s luscious daughter, a materialistic tease captured by Franzen in all her narcissism: “She gave Joey a once-over head to toe, the way a person might confirm that a product she’d ordered had arrived in acceptable condition, and then removed her hand luggage from the seat beside her and — a little reluctantly, it seemed — pulled the iPod wires from her ears.” The magic is in “a little reluctantly”: one sees the fleeting look of displeasure, the slow tug on the wires; rather, remembers it, from similar images stored in one’s mind and awaiting release. There are numberless such moments in “Freedom,” crystalline instances of precise notation shaped by imaginative sympathy.
Gary looked up from the paper he was composing for submission to the New England Journal of Medicine. The painting again. The one with the abstract shapes she'd bought on that inexplicably tense trip to Provence all those years ago. It'd hung there through two Bush administrations. He'd never liked it.
There was a layer of grimy dust on it now, you could see it gathered in the beveled corners when the light of Connecticut or else Long Island autumn slanted in. He would have to dust it off before the kids came for Thanksgiving. They'd notice, and judge him. They'd judge him anyway, but at least not for the dust on the painting in the slanting autumn light that slants as it does with the slanting and sliding, which of course you're supposed to equate with Gary's fragile mortality, you need a schematic or can we move on?
The paper was supposed to restore his reputation as a plastic surgeon or cancer researcher, whichever made him seem more sympathetic despite his palpable misanthropy. He could barely concentrate on his work, thinking of the damn painting and Provence and his ex-wife who'd stolen the last of his erections and moved to LA.
He decided not to dust it off and went to pour himself a glass of red wine instead.
This is an astounding comment. I'll tell you the truth, delmoi, you often say things that indicate you're smart and thoughtful, but you also often say things that seem said in order to be contrary. This comment makes you sound young and idiotic, and like someone who doesn't really like books or literature much. That's fine, but kind of disqualifies you from offering a very good opinion. Interesting premises quite often make crappy books.
Why on earth would I want to read about some random family from Alabama?
So yes, it would be ironic if Oprah's last book club pick favored the very author that made her suspend her book club and ignore contemporary fiction for a time. Franzen? Really?
But it might also mark a reconciliation, a kind of bringing together of former literary antagonists in a generous move of closure for people who love books. And that would be so very Oprah.
At the Jonathan Franzen talk at Southbank - he just said all copies of "Freedom" will be pulped - printers used old copy?!
What has happened, I think, is that the public sphere is regarded here as a total loss, so that all the big problems are imagined as unsolvable. The result is a particular kind of despair, the sort that arises from rage with no outlet, the core emotion of a large proportion of educated readers during the George W. Bush administration. Corrupted by ruinous quantities of money and the cynical application of power, the public world depicted here seems incapable of saving anything of value. At every point where a citizen tries to enter that world, he encounters active lying and the operations of expedient logic, and, in the novel’s view, he becomes a collaborator. Franzen is not a conservative, but he is a conservationist, and his novel watches helplessly, ragingly, as cherished habitats, cherished beings, begin to disappear.
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