I should preface my messy observations by conceding that yes, I understand authors have been tackling messy, burdened marriages as subjects for some time, perhaps even a number of years before Franzen’s Freedom gave every happy couple a microscope and tweezers to dissect their supposed happiness and civility. To the many predecessors, to all who’ve written about a messy relationship in a Pre-Franzen world, I mean no disrespect, but your blip on my radar was just too remote for me to explore. The Corrections brought you within my periphery but it was Freedomthat put you front and center, blipping and bleeping, screaming for attention. And now in my post-Freedom readership, it seems novels about messy, fraught marriages are inescapably personally confronting me. Below are some of the more intriguing post-Freedomnovels.
The Oregon Experiment by Keith Scribner.
Scribner goes heavy on the political and social detractions Franzen employed in Freedom. He places a marriage in the pressure cooker of political upheaval by way of an anarchist movement in the Northwest. While it’s tempting to suspect the setting of the Pacific Northwest is used as a caricature of a liberally progressive, if not radical, climate, Scribner does well to tie the whole thing to the family and bonds of marriage, thus ‘making the political personal.’
There but for the by Ali Smith
The plot might not share much likeness to Freedom, but the existential loneliness and dread make the comparison pretty easy. When a man locks himself in a room during a dinner party, refuses to leave, and only communicates by notes slipped under the door, much of his life story is unraveled. What emerges is the history of a shy, gentle man and the people whom he’s touched and been affected by. Like Franzen’s family studies, this book packs quite the emotional punch that isn’t so much the result of the plot but by compelling, generous storytelling.
An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer
The accomplished Wolitzer returns with the graceful story of a 62 year old widower. After his wife succumbs to cancer, our protagonist once again finds himself on a mission for love. Touching without being maudlin, An Available Man is for any reader of Franzen who could do without the pessimism.