Friday, July 10, 2015

The Freedom to Despair

Fun fact, I once won a first-edition, signed copy of a Jennifer Wiener book by posting a picture of her books trying to guillotine one of his books. Odd, right? I also posted a blog about winning the contest on Twitter because it gave me a much needed dose of self-worth after a really shitty day. 

#48 – Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
Recommended by: SR

The news about Walter Berglund wasn’t picked up locally – he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now – but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New York Times.

I am not a fan of Franzen. I hated The Corrections. Sadly, I am not a much bigger fan of Freedom. I think it has the same two problems as his first book – all the characters are low-grade assholes that are impossible to care about in any meaningful way and nothing really happens. I can get behind a good villain or a really complex character that is neither good nor bad. In fact, I think that is what makes Gone Girl such a good book because if you take two minutes to think about the plot, it falls apart entirely. But you are willing to overlook the basic stupidity of the plot and the ludicrous ending because the characters are so fascinating. In this book, the characters are exactly the type of people you wouldn’t want to get stuck talking to at a cocktail party. They just exist in a vacuum of self-absorption and poor decision making. As a reader, we have to be told that characters are interesting because the author can never prove it on the page. I’m glad I read it because I can continue my active dislike for his novels with a perfect record, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone else suffer through it.

#50 – Despair – Vlaidmir Nabokov
Recommended by: LR

If I were not perfectly sure of my power to write and of my marvelous ability to express ideas with the utmost grace and vividness . . . So, more or less, I had thought of beginning my tale.

I didn’t get it. I can’t even pretend that I did. In fact, I can honestly state that if I didn’t go online and read the Wikipedia synopsis, I’d have literally no idea what happened in this book. I know this is a classic of literature, and Russian literature in particular, but I’d be damned if I had to explain why. It might as well have been written in Russian for all I understood of the characters, their motivation, and the plot. I can only be thankful that this was a very brief book and that my feeling of complete stupidity was short-lived. 

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