At the risk of defending Jonathan Franzen more than he deserves -- because really, Freedom has some serious flaws -- I've got to admit that Gabriel Brownstein's thoughtful essay in The Millions got me thinking about the book again. In "The Big Show: Franzen, Goodman and 'The Great American Novel,'" Brownstein compares Freedom and Allegra Goodman's The Cookbook Collector, both critically-acclaimed, thoroughly absorbing social realist novels about affluent families in the big picture of contemporary America. And as he points out, the books really do have some striking similarities, in their concern with national and global politics, with the environment and technology, and with religion, beauty, and art. Brownstein's question is why, given that the novels are so similar, and that they were released in the very same year, was Franzen's considered a Great American Novel and Goodman's "just another good book by Allegra Goodman."
She felt somehow very like him--the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun. But she must go back. She must assemble. She must find Sally and Peter. And she came in from the little room.
Had I made it to the Kelly Writers House for yesterday's marathon reading of Mrs. Dalloway in time for my assigned 5:50 slot, I would've gotten one of the many exquisite party passages, but not the party passage, which came to me at 6:10. As it was, I had to fidget a little too noticeable as the woman before me pressed beyond her 10-minute slot to say, "Oh! thought Clarissa, in the middle of my party, here's death, she thought," clearly knowing the treasure that lay ahead -- the climax of the entire book. But thanks to Max McKenna and the good people of the KWH, I got to pick up with the Bradshaws, and what business they had to talk of death at Clarissa's party, and it really was the perfect way to end the week.
My Historian, when he finds himself suddenly awake in the middle of the night, likes to smack the radio on his bedside table with the hope that whatever sounds come out of it will somehow lull him back to sleep. When those sounds are the weather and traffic, his strategy works fairly well. But when, as happened the other night, he finds himself actually responding to an event or story, he only lies awake longer, listening, evaluating, and pulling the covers away from my deeply sleeping back, trying to remember and interpret every detail so that he can narrate it all back to me the moment my eyes open in the morning.
Fortunately for My Historian and me, Studio 360 puts their content online. So today, sitting on the couch with My Historian and his laptop, I got to hear the full story of My Poet/My Novelist as told by the poet, Averill Curdy, and the novelist, Naeem Murr, themselves. A wonderful piece. (Though, admittedly, My Historian had summed it up pretty well already -- footnotes still to come.)
author of The Violet Hour, reader, prodigious eater of ice cream