Saturday, January 8, 2011

Caryl writes: Men Who Write Women--Part I

I am a big reader. My idea of a perfect day is a good book and nothing else to do. One day last week I was feeling a bit under the weather--and the weather itself was frightful: pouring rain, dreary skies, a wicked wind. I took to my bed. You know, you are living your second life when you can give yourself a day off without feeling guilty. (This takes years to achieve and shows real evolution.)

So I curled up with Jonathan Franzen's much praised and best- selling Freedom, a 562-page epic (one sentence at the beginning of part four is, in fact, 304 words long) on a new milleninium dysfunctional American family. (Note:  This is not to be confused with his earlier book, Corrections, another tome but this one is about a dysfunctional American family in the last years of the 20th century.  Franzen's narrator in Feedom is named  Patty Berglund. Patty is not only the mother of the family but also a character the author says is very much like himself.  That should have been a tip-off.
I'm not going to ruin the book for you but after my horizontal day knocking back 500 plus pages let me just say that the ending enraged me.   As the title states and the jacket notes confirm, the novel charts the mistakes, joys and struggles the Berglunds encounter trying to live an admirable life  in these confusing times with too much freedom  But Patty Berglund is no 21st century poster girl for enlightenment.  She's more a 50s icon, a leftover from the era of the Feminine Mystique but without the self-reflection.  Her brush  with freedom only brings her back to the stuck place women have worked decades to free themselves from
Maybe this is why Franzen likes Patty so much as a character. She permits him to write about a changing world where the roles women and men played in the past end up remarkably the same. Women in Franzen's novel still play a supporting role. You would think Oprah of all women would have learned that this is not an author that should carry  her sticker of approval.
Watch for Men Who Write Women--Part II coming soon.

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