Reading along through this brilliant champagne tumbler of a book, I began to sense a mental dissonance in the way people are talking about it. The situation is a mirror image of my MFA workshops. As we discussed people’s work we could mention the “show versus tell” conundrum, notice instances of “image patterning,” praise a nice description or a sense of place. If we didn’t like a piece, we could talk about anything but the one thing that mattered, the awful, dreaded taboo word: boring. One professor — he was a newbie — said something unguarded once about how he couldn’t imagine why anyone would actually want to read the story we were discussing. “It’s dull!” he exclaimed, as if everyone would understand.
He was gone soon after.
Much in the same way, for all the chit-chat about Franzen being the voice of his generation with his finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist, etc., etc., no one seems to mention the single most important fact: Sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph, it’s a delight to read. It’s interesting. It’s hilarious. It’s smart. Sentences like this one make you laugh and shake your head sadly at the same time.
We all know this woman:
“Then she waited, with parted lips and a saucy challenge in her eyes, to see how her presence — the drama of being her — was registering.”
In short, “Freedom” is fun.
Not for the characters, but for their readers, for us; and fun is a drastically underrated commodity. Generation-voicing, zeitgeist-registering fun? That’s the best fun of all.