There are few characters in this novel I can truly relate to, one or two at the most. The middle-class America of this story is a world away from me. Yet I found I care about all of them, Patty and her cold son, the failed rock-star and the eco-nut… Their depth and realism was a refreshing change from genre fiction types.
I felt engaged, curious of their involvement in this complex story with it’s many socio-economic, psycho-political implications (sometimes, it even seems a bit overloaded and screams I AM TOPICAL). Yes, it says a lot. The backdrop of the story is a tapestry of post-9/11 “current events”, a textured and complex web at once historically accurate and completely fabricated, and speaks volumes about these thorny, topical themes without falling into the trap of moralising or being a microphone for the author’s opinion.
It truly is a testament to Franzen’s skill that he manages to keep character motivations at the forefront, driving the story. With all this, you may be under the impression that this is a serious novel, a book you can talk about at cocktail parties to seem like a “well-read individual”. It is good cocktail-party fodder, but above all, this novel is a lot of fun. It’s clever and quirky and richly-inlaid with explosively evocative prose which sticks in your head for days (even the little things: “[His] half-mast boner was pointing at her like a Jaguar’s hood ornament.”). It was a pleasure to read, an inspiration, and despite it’s complex plotting and “serious themes”, flowed off the page effortlessly.
Now to move on to David Foster Wallace, I have a cocktail party coming up soon.