Plus Good Times Book Picks
Jonathan Franzen’s latest release lends impellent view to modern America
For anyone who has not yet had the pleasure of reading part time local author Jonathan Franzen’s works, his stellar new book “Freedom” is just the place to begin. Epic in theme, yet with a microscopic clarity of character, “Freedom” delves deep into the American psyche posing handfuls of those pesky ‘what if’ questions that human beings plague themselves with on a daily basis. What if I didn’t get married? What if I didn’t have children? What if I chose a different career? Will asking these unanswerable questions really help us move forward with our lives?
Manipulating the English language exactly to his will, words become malleable playthings for Franzen’s sharp, satyrical mind. His previous works such as, “The Twenty-Seventh City” shows an intimate and at times frightening St. Louis of the future, while his post 9/11 2001 bestseller, “The Corrections” draws on the intricacies of the dynamics of an American family struggling with the demons of the past and the uncertainty of a potentially dismal future. Franzen’s weighty tomes are staggered by decades, the author’s voice becoming even more crystalline in thought and idea as the scope of years passes by.
Although born outside Chicago and raised in the St. Louis suburbs, Franzen calls the Midwest home no more. The innate natural beauty and enduring peacefulness of Santa Cruz lured Franzen, who now splits his time between a home here and one in Manhattan. But taking the Midwesterner out of the Midwest does not take the Midwest out of the Midwesterner as they say, and Franzen’s stories eloquently unfold within the confines of the heartland with which he is unequivocally familiar.
With an uncanny knack for capturing the monotony of middle-class American life, Franzen has chosen St. Paul Minn., as the city in which this fictional foray takes place. The Berglund family is a seemingly happy family, going through the motions that any normal, American middle-class family unit might go through. But as in most lives, undercurrents of remorse, heartbreak, disappointment and depression threaten to break the family apart at the core—a story compelling by it’s very familiarity. The characters in “Freedom” are indelibly multifaceted. Walter Berglund is a lawyer for a major international corporation. Continually struggling through the remnants of his unhappy childhood— his father was plagued by alcoholism—Walter finds himself more and more at odds with his current situation in life. Franzen creates a dynamic in the character Walter that leaves one feeling unrestrainedly sorry for his somewhat pathetic choices. Walter’s wife Patty stays home in the sprawling Midwestern suburbs with the kids. On the surface it may sound so “Leave it to Beaver,” but the 50s mentality of vacuuming in her heels and pearls Patty does not possess. Instead she pines for her past, where as a college athlete she sensed an air of freedom and potential in her life, only to have it snuffed out by the ball and chain of marriage and family. Her disappointment with the monotony of life as she now knows it leads her into a reckless cycle of drinking and into an unhindered affair with her husband’s best friend Richard. Meanwhile the two Berglund children, Jessica and Joey, struggle under the oftentimes stifling rule of their idealistic parents. Rebellion is on the horizon, as many a well-meaning parent has found after years of striving to turn their children into mini models of the American dream. The stirring characters swirl testily around each other, each a perfect example of modern if dysfunctional family dynamics. Though it may seem dismal, the book eventually evolves into a tale of redemption and change (though maybe not changes the reader would expect) both for individuals and within the dichotomy of relationships. All struggle, but ultimately discover what it is they hold most dear.
Franzen’s way with words, storytelling ability and aptitude to pull society’s quirks into perfect literary collusion make Franzen’s fourth novel an alluring choice. One of the most eagerly awaited books of 2010, “Freedom” has a Dickensian breadth and vivid scope that will leave us willing Franzen to write faster, to please not make us wait another 10 years for his fifth literary installment to be published. Photo Credit: Greg Martin
Author Event Info: Jonathan Franzen will be speaking about his new book, “Freedom” at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 1 at the Capitola Book Café, 1475 41st Ave., Capitola. For more information, call 462-4415 or visit capitolabookcafe.com.GOOD TIMES PICKS:
Bookshop Santa Cruz recommends:
Freedom a Novel
by Jonathan Franzen
This much-anticipated, much-acclaimed novel by (part-time) local author Jonathan Franzen—the first author to appear on the cover of Time magazine in over a decade—will be released on Aug. 31 and we can’t wait.
The Crying Tree
by Naseem Rakha
A favorite of Garth Stein’s (Art of Racing in the Rain), this is a beautiful portrait of redemption and forgiveness about a family who has had to face too much.
Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude
by Neal Pollack
The hilarious true account of an overweight, balding, skeptical guy’s unexpected transformation into a healthy, blissful yoga fiend.
Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?
by Michael J. Sandel
Harvard Professor Michael Sandel uses the big picture to examine current social problems that shape political discourse; this is a great read for both political junkies and those who love to debate how collective responsibility leads to a more engaged civic life.
What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets
by Faith D’Aluisio
& Peter Menzel
This fascinating photographic collection (by the creators of Material World) features portraits of 80 people from around the world—from a Japanese sumo wrestler to a Massai herdswoman—and the vastly different amounts of food they eat in one day.
Capitola Book Café recommends:�
Let’s Take the Long Way Home
by Gail Caldwell
In testament to the power of the dog as well as friendship, writers Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp bonded over their dogs and went on to share a closeness that included addiction, sports, nature, even death. Caldwell's cloudless truth turns great loss into a great gift.
How to Live
by Henry Alford
Henry Alford harvests wisdom from his subjects the way one might search a garden not for the perfect bloom but the unexpected one. Funny and humane, he taps into the many versions of life lived well.
by Paul Greenberg
An engaging trip over land and under the sea to witness the complex interaction between humans and the four most common fish on our plates. “Four Fish” will reshape the way you think about the last wild food and strengthen your passion for healing our oceans.
The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
This is the first book in a series that deserves to sit alongside Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” for its ability to be read and enjoyed on many different levels and by an adult as well as a YA audience. Thrilling in every way.
by Ron Currie, Jr.
How would you live your life if you were born knowing the day and time the planet would be destroyed? “Everything Matters” is a fascinating romp—that may sound too cheerful for the subject but it’s not—through Junior’s life.
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