Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I had little intention of reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, because I don’t think I’m interested in the life histories of despicable people.  (Except, I am.)  I have The Corrections, and know all the scandals that surround Franzen, but just was not interesting.  One thing changed that: NPR.  Right when Freedom came out, I was doing a lot of traveling and listening to NPR on the road.  The interview with Franzen was fascinating and I loved the excerpt he read.  I knew that as soon as I could get my hands on a copy I had to read it.

Now that I have read it, it absolutely lived up to my expectations.  I know that a lot of my appreciation has to do with the writing style; the particularly detailed, almost omniscient narrator is my favorite.  I found Franzen’s voice refreshing and his vision of the US life, though somewhat bleak, was so realistic that the characters could have been my neighbors.

Freedom is a family history of the fictional  Berglunds, from Patty and Walter’s childhoods to their lukewarm courtship and their mutual betrayals over time.  Patty, a college athlete turned housewife, throws herself into renovating their house, but once the project is finished finds herself depressed.  Walter, a strong believer in population control and environmental protection, rides his bike to work every day but eventually changes jobs to a career that will alter his life forever.

Did I like Walter and Patty, or their mutual musician friend Richard?  Absolutely not.  Did I agree with the decisions their children made?  Not once.  Did I enjoy reading about their lives?  I couldn’t get enough of it.

Though I do not think this is the perfect novel, or the perfect US novel, I do think that this story perfectly captures a moment in our history with characters who, yes, are somewhat like caricatures of their real-life counterparts.  But never does Freedom venture into the unbelievable, rather only the extreme.  There is a little bit of all of us, our worst sides, in these characters.

Walter, though for much of his life he thinks he knows what he wants and how to get it, finds himself unsure of everything as he gets older and his children and wife disappoint him.  This is how that feeling is described for Walter:

“He didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know how to live.  Each new thing he encountered in life impelled him in a direction that fully convinced him of its rightness, but then the next new thing loomed up and impelled him in the opposite direction, which also felt right.  There was no controlling narrative: he seemed to himself a purely reactive pinball in a game whose only object was to stay alive for staying alive’s sake.” (318)

I also loved that Freedom existed wholly in its time period, from the late 70s to the late 2000s, with the appearances of appropriate music details and technologies, including Twitter, Priuses and Obama:

“Linda was very offended by this conversation.  Walter wasn’t really even a neighbor, he didn’t belong to the homeowners association, and the fact that he drove a Japanese hybrid, to which he’d recently applied an OBAMA bumper sticker, pointed, in her mind, toward godlessness and a callousness regarding the plight of hardworking families, like hers, who were struggling to make ends meet and raise their children to be good, loving citizens in a dangerous world.” (544)

“Anxieties hung like a cloud of no-see-ums on Canterbridge Court; they invaded every house via cable news and talk radio and the internet.  There was plenty of tweeting on Twitter, but the chirping and fluttering world of nature, which Walter had invoked as if people were still supposed to care about it, was one anxiety too many.” (546)

Freedom is going to be one of my favorite novels of the year.  It reminded me of all the things I love about Wally Lamb, with none of the problems I have with his fiction.  Will novels like Freedom and The Hour I First Believed, which are so entrenched in a time period and actually occupy the same time period, eventually sound dated?  I hope not.  I hope that they simply serve as a glimpse into our society’s idiosyncrasies and complexities.  I am eager to read The Corrections, a pre-9/11 novel, to compare it to Freedom.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Also reviewed by: Caribousmom, Lous_pages, Steph & Tony Investigate, 1000 Books with Quotes, Tales from the Reading Room,  Feminist Texican [Reads], The New Dork Review of Books.

National Poetry Month – Claudia Emerson

I know that a lot of readers of Regular Rumination come here for poetry recommendations on Wednesdays (I hope!), but today for National Poetry Month I have an extra suggestion for you!  The poet I want to feature today is Claudia Emerson.  I’ve told you in the past how I come across the poems and poets I want to feature on my blog, and I’ve told you that I have a few favorites to share, and Claudia Emerson is one of them.  She won the Pultizer in 2006 and is the Poet Laureate of Virginia.

One thing I love about poetry is that a lot of what is published out there is available online.  Unlike a novel, you can read full poems in a variety of places around the internet.  You can read a little bit or you can read a lot, without leaving the comfort of your computer chair or spending a lot of money.  I think it’s a wonderful thing and really I have no excuse for not reading more of it.  I’d like to point you to a couple places where you can read Claudia Emerson’s poetry online, but you really can’t go wrong with any of her books.  I have read some of them and they are absolutely amazing.

You can read four of her poems at Verse Daily, PBS has an excellent interview with her after she wont he Pultizer, including a really beautiful poem entitled “Artifact”.  There are also three more of her poems to read on PBS’s Poetry Series website.  Poet’s Spotlight, featuring five poems.

As someone who writes poetry, I feel as though I can’t escape the things I write about and I end up writing the same poem over and over again, just in a different shape.  Looking at it from my perspective, it gets pretty boring.  So I am forever awed by the incredible variety of topics and shapes that Claudia Emerson’s poetry takes.  Her book Pinion: An Elegy is a book-length poem from the perspective of one woman named Rose.  Late Wife, the Pulitzer Prize winning collection, is a series of poems to and about her first husband and her second husband.  PBS’s interview addresses this book specifically, but it deals with the love and loss of her first marriage in divorce and her second husband’s late wife.  Her newest collection of poetry is Figure Studies, a collection of poems in three parts.  “All Girls School” is about a fictional girl’s boarding school, “Gossips” is a series of poems voiced by women about other women, and finally, “Early Lessons” is narrated by children about the older women they observe.

As my professor, mentor and friend, Claudia Emerson has influenced me greatly as a poet and a person.  I hope that you will take the time out of your day for National Poetry Month to read one of the poems I have linked to here.  They are unforgettable poems that have meant a lot to me as a reader and a writer of poems.  Enjoy!

Thank you to Serena of Saavy Verse and Wit for organizing the National Poetry Month Blog Tour!  Yesterday’s stop was at Diary of an Eccentric and tomorrow’s stop is at Indextrious Reader.