Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Freedom - Jonathan Franzen

The most recent magnum opus in American popular fiction, Jonathan Franzen's Freedom asks us how we organize our lives in modern America? In a society in which we are seemingly loosed from geographical, societal and class chains, how does a person, with the world theirs for the taking, make sense of their lives, themselves and their place in the world around them?

Tracing the coming of age of two generations of a midwestern family, Franzen's work provides keen insights into how families make sense of themselves and how people grow and change in relation to one another. The work is at its strongest illuminating the metal growth and complexities of the Burglund family; by the end we feel these creations exist, fully-formed, in the world around us. Franzen is able to achieve this characterization while incorporating it into the modern condition of american post-9/11 fears and disconnections. An strong statement about where Franzen sees us and resonant with the broader themes of our concerns and our condition.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

From a misty graveyard, to the empty lot where a once great mansion stood, Charles Dickens' Great Expectations is a novel of punctuated equilibrium, where years will pass and then, in a flash, everything will change. All that has been written on even Dickens' least dissected of works could, surely, fill my room many times over.Thus I won't make an dead-on-arrival attempt to illuminate some heretofore shadowy aspect of this classic - though, that is not really what I am going for in any of these reviews.

One of the things that pervades this work is characterization as sense. Regardless of what Pip or Provis or Jaggers says about themselves of what others say about them, the reader is given an innate feel for who we like and who we detest. This is most clear in Pip and, what is truly remarkable about him, is that we are given the emotional space to feel differently about him as he grows up and changes. At differing times he is scared, insightful, daring, honest, jaded, pig-headed and gentle and the reader is given access to this, less by what he does and says and more in his prejudices and reactions. Often he gives the reader cause to be proud of him, but just as often he is an object of frustration. In this way it seems that Dickens has truly created the feeling of how we grow up and change and or constantly in the process of becoming the people we are.

Once again, Dickens is writing about the process of growing up and what we think we want versus what we really desire. One aspect of this I found interesting throughout was how happy Pip remembers his time with Joe and living outside the confines of dreary London. Of course some of this is tied-up in innocence and the rural character, but I couldn't help but thinking that maybe our more cosmopolitan urban character, isn't better off focusing on a world that is concerned with him and that allows him to be invested in it?