I’m listening to Aretha Franklin sing Freedom while I write this. Not because it has anything to do with this post, but because I keep singing the song in my head anyway whenever I see the book lying around, so I figured I’d give in.
Let me start off by saying that I love Jonathan Franzen’s writing. It’s honest and raw, I love his voice, and he really had a way of bringing his characters to life, so that you can only hope that everything will turn out okay in the end while reading.
But that’s also the problem. Some of this book made for easy reading, and I’d be engrossed in the pretty much everyday lives of the characters. It takes real skill to make ordinary lives so compelling, and Franzen possesses it. But then, as people do, his characters make mistakes, and things spiral out of control. And although you can’t precisely foresee what’s going to happen, you know it’s going to be bad. That people will be hurt, things will be said that can’t be undone, and lives will shatter.
Now, I might be just a tad sensitive, as I tend to find it hard to keep reading in those situations. It’s why it took me so long to finish it – that, and the fact that the book is 562 pages long. I read the first half in pretty much one big spurt, but had to keep putting it down after that and go do something else. I wasn’t crying over it or anything, but it did get to me in some places.
I’m not going to say too much about the plot, but I will tell you this: the ending was a tad sweeter than I thought it would be, based on Franzen’s earlier novel, The Corrections. Not Hollywood-sweet, but life sucked less than it might have, I guess you could say. (I liked that, as I finished it right before bed and hence could go to sleep thinking happy thoughts instead of being all depressed over how people tend to treat each other.)
The only way it could have been better would be if Franzen had taken out two hundred pages. It ran a bit long in places, I thought. Luckily, Franzen is a good enough writer that I remained attentive despite the several superfluous chapters, or his book might have been relegated to the “need to finish one day” shelf in my room. No book wants to be sent there, as the chance that I will actually finish the book is slim. And we all know there’s no worse fate for the written word than being abandoned half-way through.