Reading Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

After a long hiatus, I have finally decided to blog again (things get in the way), and have just finished the book Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.

I am very curious to see if anyone has any preliminary thoughts, did they like the book? Did they hate the book? Its weird, I thought the book was enjoyable, but there was no real substance to the book. The depth was missing, sacrificed for the language Franzen chooses to use.

To start my discussion I thought I’d just try and connect all the characters for you, it will probably look quite funny:

Joyce is Patty’s mom who is Walter’s wife and Joey/Jessica’s mom and they all live next door to Monaghan’s whose youngest daughter, Connie, is fucking Joey but he really wants to be fucking Jenna whose brother is Jonathan and father employs Joey which Walter doesn’t approve of and Jessica is jealous of who both work together with Richard, who has an affair with Patty and has been Walter’s best friend and hits on Lalitha who has an affair with Walter and dies in a car accident leaving everyone to mysteriously live happily ever after, besides Richard who dies alone.

 

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Ripper by Isabel Allende

Did I think Allende could do it? Yes, but still I had my doubts.

Ripper pulls the reader right in, it is 500 pages but it reads like 150 (I finished the book in two days). The suspense took a different turn around 40 pages left. I read mystery novels, but I was so invested in the characters from this book that I had to flip through the next pages. I know, I’m the worst, but I had to see what happened. I was going to get a heart attack if not.

Overall the novel is about a series of murders in the San Francisco area. Of course, the main characters are a family, drawn together by the voluminous, evanescence creature, Indiana (I seriously love the name Indi). Her family is strong, her friends are strong and I found the villain believable. I have to say I guessed it!!!! Not in a bad way, since I only guessed half of it, but still I was happy to guess “who dun it” as they say.

One of the things that I always found were Allende’s strengths were building characters that you could read, read into and read again. Do people like Agatha or Amanda really exist? I’m not sure, but Allende does a good job of showing us what it means to be human, to have different loves and interests and beliefs.

Thoughts the Ripper was funny and touching in a way that extended beyond the typical idea of a “mystery novel.” I thought it was a great read, interesting at every turn. I loved the characters and was captivated by Allende’s always stunning use of language (Did she write this in English first??)

Great Passage

He was so eaten up with jealousy that he hired a private detective, a man named Samuel Hamilton Jr., and instructed him to keep tabs on Indiana and a record of the men she met, including her patients at the Holistic Clinic. Hamilton was a short little man with the innocuous air of a vacuum cleaner salesman, but he had inherited the nose of a bloodhound from his father, a journalist who had solved a number of crimes in San Francisco back in the 1960s and was immortalized in the detective novels of William C. Gordon. The son was the spitting image of his father: short, red-haired, balding, keen-eyed. He was dogged and persistent in his fight against the criminal underworld but, overshadowed by his father’s legend, had never managed to truly develop his potential and so scraped by as best he could. Hamilton tailed Indiana for a month without discovering anything of interest, and for a while, Alan was reassured, but his calm was short-lived; soon he would call the detective again, the cycle of mistrust repeating itself with shameful regularity. Fortunately, Indiana knew nothing about these machinations, though she ran into Samuel Hamilton so often, and in such unexpected situations, that after a while they would say hello to one another.

Duplex, by Kathryn Davis

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I’m not made of money, you know, her father said and the girl laughed, because who was? People weren’t made of paper or metal. That was what made them people.

Duplex is a complicated novel. It is somewhat a collection of short stories, though the characters remain the same and it seems to flow in a logical order (one can never tell what fits and what does not in this book). I want to start off by saying, I did not know that this book was going to be science fiction. I want to repeat myself, this book is science fiction. Personally, I still liked it, but it was pretty shocking when it first started and there were robots and people living together, and sorcerers and well, I’ll let you read the book 😉

The crickets were rubbing their hind legs together, unrolling that endless band of sound that when combined with the sound of the sycamore trees tossing their heads in the heat-thickening breeze could cause even a girl as unsentimental as Mary to feel like she’d just left something behind on the porch stoop she couldn’t bear to live without.

Overall the novel follows the lives of a community, particularly a very plain girl named Mary and her love for Eddie. Eddie goes off to become a ball player, and Mary marries someone else in a very complicated series of events. Their stories are broken up by tales from a woman named Janice, who has the most horrific, yet delightful, stories about girls who came before them. Girls who turned to beads, girls who were horses and mermaids. Janice was my favorite character of the book.

Apes or humans–we all made the same mistake, tempted by shifting leaves or the smell of sex, by music or a ripe banana.

Recommendation if you like science fiction, read this book. If you like magical realism, read this book. If you like beautiful language and like magic, read this book. The language that Davis uses is truly beautiful and striking. The novel is punctuated by magical events juxtaposed with the familiar, like a daughter pulling away from her daughter. I think this novel would be a better read going through it knowing that it is science fiction. The style of writing is complicated, but also flows nicely, so one could read right through it without reading anything at all, so keep in mind that it is complicated and requires attention.

I think it’s often possible for a person to lie to herself while at the same time knowing perfectly well what’s going on.

Other Thoughts personally, I kept reading through the book, passages over and over again, feeling like I was missing something. Was there a greater symbolism here? I wasn’t really sure, though I think the last story does a really good job of tying it together. Janice tells a story that all the women deem boring, and she says but this is everyones story. I did not do a good job of quoting her there, so I encourage you to read the book to see what it is really like.

The afternoons had a way of stretching endlessly in all directions as if time were taffy, something a person could get caught in.

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Eddie had been a good person to begin with; the material part of his body including his brain cells and his memory couldn’t forget that fact, even while the cold black wind of soullessness kept blowing through the empty space inside.

Hausfrau, by Jill Alexander Essbaum

What did I think about Hausfrau? I think I feel very complicatedly about the novel (lol I sound like Anna, “I think I feel..”)

Overall I liked the novel, it moved me to a place I’m not really sure where. I thought that it was complicated, the character Anna was so complicated. I want to preface by saying I am not a mother or wife, so I do not have the same reactions as say, someone who is both of those things.
I thought perhaps there was a lot left unaccomplished by the end of the novel. This idea, connection, between language and the overall culture that she was living in felt unfinished. Additionally, I found the novel sad in an unsurprising way, which to me, made it even sadder. But on a more positive note, I thought Essbaum had a beautiful flow and diction throughout the novel. If you don’t like the plot, you will be drawn in by her prose.

Specifics I found it crazy how much I could identify with Anna, since our lives are very, very different. But I felt like I understood her sorrows and empathy like they were my own. From the moment Hausfrau opened I jumped for her questions of life, and disappointments at the answers. I also like Essbaum’s style when she discussed sex, very vulgarly. I think that for some people it could come off as too heavy, and not very plot driven. I thought that it worked for me, but it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

She let her mind turn gray.

The novel was so conflicting because I could easily dislike Anna, for her selfish apathy towards life, and her children. However I think it just shows how terribly the people in her life dealt with this. There is failure among all the men in her life, for never showing her the love and support she needed, simply because sometimes she was too frail to ask for it. Bruno, too, is apathetic to his wife, but he does not invoke the same reaction that Anna does. The reader hate-loves her. She seems like such an honest, fictional, description.

Bruno shook his head, ‘They don’t need to see your face.’

Spoilers I think that overall I was left with this feeling of guilt after I finished the novel. I imagined her getting kicked out of the house, with no money, beaten, no children, no friends and a huge amount of shame. She felt like she didn’t deserve any help, or love.

If it didn’t mean everything, it meant nothing. If I didn’t matter the most, I mattered the least.

Honestly by the end I sort of wanted her to kill herself, as terrible as that sounds, because I wanted her loved ones to feel what it was like without her. I wanted them to feel the loss of her, though Essbaum did not go into that, I imaged Bruno being relieved, and that just made it all the sadder.

Anna’s entire life was a tragedy, read Hausfrau to understand.

“Make no mistake: everything has a variant. Like versions of truth, like versions of love, there are versions of sleep. The deepest sleep is meant only for children and perfect fools. Everyone else must pay each night her restless due.”
― Jill Alexander Essbaum

JAE is a poet as well and it definitely reflects in her writing. The above is a quote from Hausfrau, her latest novel, and one that I am currently working myself through. I’m not the hugest fan of her poetry, my favorite being “Non Redibimus,” below,

We shall not come again, not to this wet
          and summer day, nor to the waylaid place
where you laid waste to me and I to you,
          and where we reminisced recalling who
did what to whom. We shall not come again.
          Not to the bed we thrashed nor to the memory
of the way I brushed my hair back, nights,
          nor to the air we dared to share to breathe,
or couldn’t quite. We shall not come again.
          No more, my face seen round your corner, or
your briefcase found beneath my table. We
          weren’t able, apt or sane. We shall not come
again. Nor cry nor clutch, not even once
          again. We shall not cover up in quilts
or bear the beast of one another’s guilts
          or sit in silences made saddest by
what was. We shall not come again. Because.

It has a great rhythm if you read it aloud, and I love these lines: “We shall not cover up in quilts/ or bear the beast of one another’s guilts/ or sit in silences made saddest by/ what was.”

Book Review, Euphoria

Sooooo I’ve realized that I never actually posted the review about Euphoria despite talking often about it. This review will have spoilers but I’ll remind again when I get to them!

Overall, I was nervous about first picking up this book. It is very popular, and at the beginning it seems without substance. Though I was grabbed, I was not taken away by the beginning of the novel. But then Lily King really gets going. And I felt lost and desperate, truly feeling the fever that the characters themselves experience. Read the book, give it a chance, let me know what you think. I think it is a beautiful celebration of women, a women-centered culture, a woman is highlighted as the main character, a woman author. Euphoria exceeds expectations, (Harry Potter style).

I’m going to start out by describing some negatives that I found throughout the book,

  • At the beginning of the novel, I found the language unremarkable though they would be littered with sentences like,”I came to see that the whole Darwinian story of the fat-beaked finches eating nuts and the thin-beaked finches eating…,” I can just imagine Bankson arriving in the Galapagos, being like what the hell, looking around, does anyone else see this? They’re all eating the same things! Why are you guys all nodding along? Guys!
  • Sometimes I felt like the sentences were not representing of the characters, like when Bankson said, “History hung suspended for months. I took solace in the not knowing,” why?
  • I thought that at first, the characters of Nell, Fen, Bankson and his parents were painted too heavily with the brush of good or evil. Bankson and Nell were good, Fen and Bankson’s parents were evil (“Stalin to his Lenin”)
  • Further I was not convinced (in the beginning) of the attraction between Bankson and Nell, I suffered with the question, is this trite?
  • Spoiler the Fen and Bankson kiss felt pointless to me. Some may disagree, but it seemed like a plot twist that had no real role.

There are a lot more good things than bad, so brace yourself…

  • Lily King beautifully discusses anthropology, the difficulties that the subject goes through
  • I thought she did a great job discussing the heartbreaking nature of these colonies. They were later taken over, their beautiful culture destroyed. It is this great struggle between modernization and colonization. Like, “She wished she could show him a Van Gogh, the self-portraits,” portrays a really complicated line, very deftly.
  • Then the novel, at around 100 pages I would say? really changes, you can truly feel the energy shift and especially when Bankson returns the second time. Hellen’s character, which at once seemed unneccessary, takes a clear role in advancing the characters. I was wrapped up in the details that King unfolded, the way that she wrote that portrayed clearly the academic frenzy the three felt.
  • A great book is able to ask questions, the “why?” without seeming cliche. King was able to do that. She built and built and built until Nell said, “Do you think it’s natural, the desire to possess another person?” And it felt natural.
  • I was completely sold on Bankson and Nell by the end, the writing reflected the changes that Fen also felt when Bankson arrived. He was a life force.
  • King navigated beautifully around Fen’s crime. Where does his real crime come in? How many steps away are Bankson and Nell in fault? Is what they do similar? It is so blurry, so ironically juxtaposed.
  • Spoiler the end is truly heartbreaking. The violence that Nell endured, to her body, because she was a woman, is so terribly sad. This is a beautiful novel about the strength of a woman, the acceptance that come along with the small mistreatments, the resentments. The end does not end hopefully, I was left with an intense feeling of loss. A desperate sense of loss.

I was blown away.

Other great passages:

My father had produced three of those foot soldiers. It was hard to convince him of anything else.

I’m seeing now from this vantage point that all the times he’s hovered over the bed, scolding me, hounding me to get up, it’s been fear, no fury.

He smelled like the West.

Bankson doesn’t like it when the colonists talk about where money comes from.

Book Recommendation Wednesday!

I’m going to start presenting my favorite book of the week, for the non-illiteration “Book Recommendation Wednesday!”
I would also love to hear things that I should be reading! Some of my favorite authors, Calvino, Pamuk, etc. have been from suggestions, so please comment / message / etc.

This week I’ve chosen (*drum roll*), No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July. When I first heard of this collection of short stories, I knew it was suppose to be odd. Yet even with that mindset, I was shocked by the book. By the first story I was confused, shocked, awed. July types your deepest secrets, the off-putting fantasies you dream about and realities that you could never see on television. The experience of reading it is unique. Cover-to-cover, you will probably be done in one sitting.

Admittedly, this is not a novel for everyone. The manner of writing is uncomfortable, voiceless yet very distinct. For those readings, I’ve chosen Euphoria, a novel that needs some time to get into, unlike No One Belongs Here More Than You, but once King hits her stride the novel is truly astounding.
5/20