My sister has an ex-boyfriend who says Jonathan Franzen is a dick, but I don’t care. He’s an amazing writer. This semi-autobiographical novel about a guy with aging parents dealing with his own aimlessness and his father’s degenerative disease is rich with pathos, fine language and more nuance than you would expect. It resonated very strongly with me for another reason: Franzen’s Mom is my Mom. I had suspected this when I read his book of essays but I am even more sure now. This isn’t necessarily the most flattering thing to say about either of them, but it was uncanny. So much so that I kept wanting to put down the book and write Franzen a postcard and say “How did you know she does that?!” I read this book in basically one sitting on a cross-continental plane trip which was sort of a good way to keep up with all the characters. I don’t recommend that approach for just anyone, but worked well for me.
Everyone in the book is a little bit broken and a little bit redeeming which is really my favorite kind of set-up. It’s so easy to just have an evil character that drives all the negative energy towards them but all these people have on and off issues with all the other people which, at the end of it all, aren’t even resolved. Life is complicated and so are the stories and words in this book. Worth delving in to.