Zach Wahls is the poster child for the modern family movement; the child of two gay women who raised him and his sister in Iowa, he represents everythZach Wahls is the poster child for the modern family movement; the child of two gay women who raised him and his sister in Iowa, he represents everything that is right about parenting, and parenting that has very little to do with biological ties. He walks the reader through the pillars of the Boy Scouts of America (quite ironically given their recent anti-equality stance), coupling each element with narrative stories of his upbringing and rational explanations for true acceptance in our country. When he argues that "the refusal to recognize how someone identifies himself is to imply that you are a better judge of who that person is than he is of himself. To suggest that anyone or any family that is not a mirror image of you or your family somehow lacks validity is the height of disrespect and dishonesty" (106), it's hard to argue his logic. One of the most memorable moments is when he strategically argues that studies focused on the benefit of families with one mother and one father are much more about class and wealth than some arbitrary benefit provided by the mere presence of two particular genders.
As the parent of two adopted children, I also found his thoughts on the ways in which modern families are constructed refreshing. He suggests that "biologically, everyone has a 'father,' but 'dad' is a title that is earned and cemented by an emotional, not genetic bond" (191). This is an explanation that I will use to help my children understand their relationship to their parents, and one that I wholeheartedly agree with having been raised by a step-father when my deadbeat biological father willingly left my mother and me when I was infant.
This book is an incredibly swift read, and I recommend it for every parent, regardless of your sexuality or family make-up, as well as for anyone interested in learning more about the gay marriage debate....more
This book is a fine read, although I was expecting something spectacular from all the press. It starts out strong, but I found the entirety fairly monThis book is a fine read, although I was expecting something spectacular from all the press. It starts out strong, but I found the entirety fairly monotonous. The premise is one that seems totally familiar: a blind jury selects an Muslim American as the winner of a 9/11 memorial contest and chaos ensues. The expected players are here: the obdurate architect in question, the stoically liberal-minded and affluent widow whose husband died in the towers, the mayor's savvy political adviser, the moronically ambitious governor, the unscrupulous journalist...the list could go on and on as the shifting narrative focuses on the different cast of characters throughout. There's even a stand in for horrid Ann Coulter who takes in a grieving brother who inadvertently sets of a tidal wave of violent headscarf-pulling across the nation.
Initially, this all plays as expected: it's a pathetic portrait of our own realities in America, the emotionally-charged assumptions and the commercialization of division. The setting is in some sort of alternate universe two years post-9/11 where Rudy Giuliani isn't the mayor, George Pataki isn't the governor, and the President--only referred to once as the man "who had once owned a baseball team" (207)--plays a minimal role in the rhetoric; with this touch of speculative fantasy, I began to wonder about the validity of the dream, especially since it did not in fact play out this way in history and also because Waldman's story so closely resembles the actual events surrounding Maya Lin's selection as the architect for the Vietnam Memorial in DC, an event also mentioned just once when one characters questions whether "Maya Lin wanted that statue of the soldiers near her memorial" (138). The final chapter however does provide some narrative brilliance that can only be achieved by a novel, at least until the revelation of a character's identity turns maudlin.
It probably sounds like I mind all these issues much more than I did while reading the book. It was certainly a quick read for me, and it raises some excellent points about the disunity that still exists in our still-healing nation; these just aren't necessarily points that I think are anything new more than ten years after the fact....more
I want to enjoy reading Chang-rae Lee more than I do. His prose has a lyrical quality that is gorgeous at times, but his narratives leave me feeling aI want to enjoy reading Chang-rae Lee more than I do. His prose has a lyrical quality that is gorgeous at times, but his narratives leave me feeling a bit cold and aloof. Native Speaker is a worthy read for a variety of reasons. It is an interesting character study of the Korean American man struggling with societal racial tensions and familial responsibilities. This is all overlaid with some late-developing political intrigue when the narrator and protagonist Henry Park begins working as a spy for up and coming New York politician John Kwang, an older Korean immigrant possibly making a bid to replace the white mayor of New York City. The interplay between Park and Kwang providing a great structure for the final hundred pages of the book, and I wish Kwang had been introduced as a counterpart for Park earlier. The many flashbacks to Park's past, including his struggles with his immigrant parents and a Boston-born white wife, could only have been strengthened with the scaffolding that the Kwang storyline provides in the late part of the novel. This would be a great book to read in a graduate seminar, or as a friend suggested to teach as a companion to Invisible Man, but I think I suffered a bit simply reading it for recreation....more
This expansive novel has been heralded by many reviewers as the quintessential contemporary American novel, and I can't disagree. Franzen's focus on tThis expansive novel has been heralded by many reviewers as the quintessential contemporary American novel, and I can't disagree. Franzen's focus on the complex web of hypocrisies, idiosyncrasies, and insecurities that besiege the American middle class creates a vast narrative with characters that are simultaneously revolting and attractive. At the heart of the novel is Patty Berglund, a former star college athlete who has chosen to pursue the vocation of Midwestern homemaker mainly to spite her overachieving parents of Westchester County. What unfolds over the course of nearly 600 pages is an insightful commentary on the ways in which we inadvertently mimic our parents' best of intentions only to destroy our own kids in the process, all mixed with some good old fashioned politics. What could be more American that?...more