**spoiler alert** I've not done much literary reviews lately, but seeing the strong reactions that this book elicited, I felt I had to offer my input.**spoiler alert** I've not done much literary reviews lately, but seeing the strong reactions that this book elicited, I felt I had to offer my input. In my personal opinion, this is the most intellectually honest book of the 3. I feel this maybe got such varied reactions because it's a beast of many genres spliced together (yes, i just made that analogy), and so this leads to uncertainty as to whether this is a thriller pushing through to an exciting conclusion, or something else. Expectations thwarted and people are left unsatisfied. In my view in this book more than the other three Margaret Atwood has dethroned humanity. By the end of the book, there are three humanoid species left, the Crakers, the Pigoons and us. We've become anachronistic and in my eyes there seems to be the sense that not longer after the book ends, all humans are gone.
I feel also that a good deal of book 3 is that of the characters losing their naivete. They are confronting the reality of people that they have idolized, learning to share their stories and the stories of other people and see each other for who they really are, rather than continuing to live--and suffer--under the delusions they held. This happens even with Blackbeard seeing the bodies of Crake and Oryx.
I regret a great deal that there's not a great deal of agency in the characters, but nearly everyone shows themselves to be sturdy and capable when they need to be. Now, that said, sure it is improbable how many people knew each other, but I feel that the 3rd volume makes this all the more clear. In volumes 1 and especially 2, this seemed like lazy writing, but then reading in #3 about all the greater machinations going on behind the scenes, and nothing seemed accidental or improbable. It felt like volume 3 was less about creatively trying to build on top of an existing plot structure, and rather more like excavating below one.
This is kind of a 'middle-age' novel, where you're past your infancy and you're seeing the world more clearly. Ren meets Jimmy and he's not this great person that she had idealized, a lot of the book is Toby hearing Zeb undercut the idealized version of himself. I think this is an interesting theme and it ties into the greater plot, where we are made to see humanity as not so great and wonderful. It is a severe judgement when considering how, with most of humanity gone, and a purer, idealistic version of ourselves living on without us, that life feels clean and fresh and open. I suppose this is the major Fall-and-Decline criticism that you see, where one's habits, when taken to an extreme scale, make us become sclerotic, stiff, unable to adapt and change, where life has become a prison and there's nowhere to go but down. We see some of the good people are capable of, but on the whole there's very little of it when compared to the amount of suffering these people cause each other in the pre-Flood days. Going back to the seeming improbability of all these people knowing each other before the Flood, it doesn't seem quite so improbable when the book forces you to question: would I know how to get by if any of this happens? And for the vast majority the answer is no, I'd be toast almost immediately. Then you consider the small percentage that knows how to get by, and it doesn't seem so unlikely that they happen to know each other, especially given the majority are connected to a cult that rejected all technology and had learned to live that way for years before the Flood.
Once I got over not thinking there'd be a rousing conclusion, it was a little startling that there was a mini-one in the last 50 pages with the Battle. I suppose my 5 star rating comes less from execution and more from the power and originality of thought. Definitely beats Orwell out of the water in many ways (leading me to think that this book is a bit 1984 and Animal Farm mashed together). ...more
These show Camus' extraordinary range and his ability to defamiliarize. One gets the sense that he is the cook from Growing Stone, now laughing at theThese show Camus' extraordinary range and his ability to defamiliarize. One gets the sense that he is the cook from Growing Stone, now laughing at the Westerner for feeling out of his element. What especially caught me was even in English translation you could sense he wrote the French in the way of a Brazilian trying to speak French, using their syntax. Woah.
Each story impressed me more and more, and at times I felt a foreshadowing of Bolano. They were all so different, written so differently as well, and yet that shows the universality of his themes all the more....more
Having read David Foster Wallace's critiques of Athlete Autobio's ("I wanted to do it, I tried hard, then I did it!" reiterated enough times to fill 3Having read David Foster Wallace's critiques of Athlete Autobio's ("I wanted to do it, I tried hard, then I did it!" reiterated enough times to fill 300 pages), all of his points here ring true. The man seems super friendly and there's plenty of good tips. But another point from DFW and his trouble with pop science books rings true here, too: the people that run a lot and who are the likely audience of the book won't get a lot out of the tips, which are basic in the extreme. In that sense I'd be happy to see a Jurek training guide. My feeling is that the co-author likely told the man to add lots of blood and guts parts to the book, which to me overemphasized the pain aspect of the sport, in the hopes of commercial success.
Inspiring book, I'll be eager to read his blog and try all the recipes as well as his other book recommendations....more
I was close to giving 4, but chose not to for one fact: any other writer given this setting would not come anywhere as close to coming to a result filI was close to giving 4, but chose not to for one fact: any other writer given this setting would not come anywhere as close to coming to a result filled with the significant level of optimism found here. Lots of tender moments, all of this despite the lack of meaning in a persons life. He does a great job of occupying both--seemingly oppositional--points at the same time, and showing they can coexist. I'd even go so far to say that he gave the example that great parts of Europe and significant segments of America adopted as their outlook on life-- even with the Absurd there can be joie de vivre and human dignity....more
Author does a surprisingly good job of avoiding the easy comparison between now and 1963, instead allowing my own brain to make the connections. For eAuthor does a surprisingly good job of avoiding the easy comparison between now and 1963, instead allowing my own brain to make the connections. For each Walker I thought of a Ted Nugent, for each Alger I thought of Palin. Especially large in my mind was the Dealeys and their newspaper, and how that feedback loop/ echo chamber so much resembled the conservatives listening only to Fox News, Drudge Report, Pat Robinson, then being surprised that their polls were way off in the 2012 election (it's a bit like the famous line from the NY socialite who said "Nixon won? But nobody I know voted for him").
Good book, having read the Mao bio I can totally understand how the fearsome situation fighting against communism would lead to total distrust that the elected leaders were doing all they could to protect their people. That came across as the author sympathetic to those fears while being forlorn at the results of those fears. What I was surprised was that Kennedy's generals were pushing for a preemptive attack. That we never had such a thing is a miracle and a golden nugget in his legacy, I feel....more
Somehow, I heard this was a ghost story, then that never materialized. It was a misunderstanding on my part. But what a great gem! Sets out with one pSomehow, I heard this was a ghost story, then that never materialized. It was a misunderstanding on my part. But what a great gem! Sets out with one purpose and fulfills it comprehensively. Great reading, lots of good connections and superb writing. At times overwrought, with me feeling apathetic about trying to figure out what exactly he is saying, but I feel when I reread this in the future it'll be clear.
James clearly thinks ill of the adults' behavior in this book, but does a good job of showing their rationale forcefully enough that you start to sympathize until you begin to remember again the stakes. ...more
Things I learned from Washington : it's sad to arrive at the end of his life in the book, where things seem to just get worse and worse -- outliving mThings I learned from Washington : it's sad to arrive at the end of his life in the book, where things seem to just get worse and worse -- outliving more of his beloved adopted children, reviled and impugned more and more during his 2nd term. Betrayed horribly by his own cabinet, and his best accomplishments turned over by fanatical people who had worked next to him. People mesmerized working under him during the Revolutionary War and then calling him, like Paine, a secret agent for the British.
What a life, nonetheless, though it's sad to think he deserved so much better. None of this makes sense but it is comfort to know that the craziness of our politics today is mirrored in the writing and the different fears and paranoias we've known.
Lessons learned: Washington's demeanor is the biggest thing. Giving time to things always seemed to end in better results. The way he was able to sidestep controversies that didn't have any clear advantage for his involvement. Reading his life story, I felt longing for the amount of letter-writing that he did, and how that seems like such a great thing to my modern ears as someone who is very pro-letter. It'd be nice to look back and see Washington's dream of a nonpartisan world having come true, but simultaneously you can see the Civil War was an event waiting to happen. Thomas Jefferson emerges in this text as a nefarious, duplicitious man. It'll be interesting when I get to him after John Adams (and Benjamin Franklin), who are next on my timeline. The new Jon Meacham one seems good.
Great, though Part 8 goes on too long in the same way as the end of War and Peace. But its interesting because you see Tolstoy's personality come throGreat, though Part 8 goes on too long in the same way as the end of War and Peace. But its interesting because you see Tolstoy's personality come through more forcefully in the final parts of both books than before, since his precise imprint is lost easily in the rest of the text. I love reading Tolstoy because I know he's a master and have perfect confidence in where the story is going and how he chooses to write it, unlike other writers where I constantly second-guess them. That reduces a great deal of latent stress with reading-- is this worth it? goes away-- and you can just let yourself be absorbed in it and you rest awash in it....more
Very lovely, lots of interesting, funny, profound pieces scattered on each page. Listened to the audio version and it was a lovely start and finish toVery lovely, lots of interesting, funny, profound pieces scattered on each page. Listened to the audio version and it was a lovely start and finish to each work day during my commute....more
Listened to this on audio, and enjoyed it enough to listen for 5 hours straight one day on the bus. The voice actor Caroline McCormac had a distinct vListened to this on audio, and enjoyed it enough to listen for 5 hours straight one day on the bus. The voice actor Caroline McCormac had a distinct voice for each character and gave them lots of pathos....more
**spoiler alert** Since others have talked this book to death, I'll focus on the expert parallelism in the book. It's there, it's real, it's flawless**spoiler alert** Since others have talked this book to death, I'll focus on the expert parallelism in the book. It's there, it's real, it's flawless and doesn't feel forced. **Be warned, I have spoilers for the Corrections throughout this review, too**
Near the end, you see Franzen deliver this scenario : Walter needs Patty to get Jessica back, Patty needs Walter to get Joey back. This is never stated except individually, but you can infer that their reunion at the end is not some Utopian desire for the past or that their love resurfaces brighter than ever. Instead these 'selfish' motives contribute to the reconciliation alongside the possible romantic ones. This is something that took the entire book to set up, and is able to show a more realistic and keen demonstration of how relationships are muddled with different needs (or to say it less flatteringly, the 'what you got to offer me?''s). But what a breathtaking scene at the end when she's out on his porch!
Similarly, you have this strange scenario of two people hooking up with each other, but that love Walter more than each other. And with the resulting terrible injustice of him feeling the least loved of all. They are their own parallels and as each ends up killing the thing they love, with Walter forsaking both of them.
This one is leaner and meaner than the Corrections. Maybe less judgmental as well, though its pretty clear he's unapologetic (rightly so?) about his thoughts. It's amazing the latitude he gets from using Walter as his puppet to air his views, while simultaneously deflating himself and those views. It's the same as with Chip in the Corrections (who I likewise viewed as a stand-in for Franzen) , it's like half self-mockery and half earnestness. Normally, when authors write themselves largely into their books, you don't get this same self-debasement that you get with Franzen. He's able to leaven things like ''cancer on the earth!'' with showing the end result of such a person finding himself a recluse in a neighborhood where everyone talks about his increasing oddness. I feel like that's partly such writing is his attempt to write about himself, before then stepping outside of himself and try to see how other people would react to such an individual(both he and DFW repeatedly mention in other places the difficulty of knowing what other people think of you, and even of knowing the qualities of your own looks and actions... despite the apparent easiness with with you would be able in five minutes to come to a halfway coherent definition about someone before you. So maybe his writing is an attempt to do that using a slightly heightened version of himself as a guinea pig).
Surprising in this book also was his ability to makes sincere efforts to portray the Bush years and its enthusiasms sympathetically while nonetheless fully exposing the resulting efforts as fundamentally misguided and terribly costly. People say Joey is the least sympathetic character in the novel; I'd say no, he felt very real to me and understandable. You may even say that he has the greatest moral arc in the book, being burned and taking on responsibility for his life and of Connie -- I didn't expect that, though when I saw him in bed with Jenna I figured Franzen would not fall back on the old storytelling tropes but pull out something fresh and real (oh, maybe that's not a good choice of words considering what Joey actually does in those few pages where he's in the room with Jenna- haha!). Another big similarity with this and with the Corrections is that it's inherenly optimistic, despite its endless tirades and personality conflicts. Both books end with families coming together again and reconciling, however briefly. Its not a very exuberant optimism, in the same way INFINITE JEST was barely optimistic (''rehab works, despite it being maddeningly illogical'').
In a lot of ways, this novel reminds me more of Roth than the CORRECTIONS did-- each Roth novel is a finely honed complaint, middling when he's not passionate about it, but awesome when they're powered by righteous anger. This one by Franzen, then, taps into that and has that flavor along with a hefty dose of sympathy and frustration, and like ROth he's just as adept to present this boiling moral inferno in a way that's expertly handled so as not to be neither cloying nor unbearably forthright. I can't think of a more concise and thorough distillation of the past 10 years. That he was writing this whole time, maybe adds to the fact that in the 2004 section, you're able to place yourself thoroughly in that time without the taint of the writer's future knowledge needlessly pushing you towards ironic situations or results. The CORRECTIONS seemed more diffuse in its anger and hurt, and so felt more meandering and habberdash-ish.
Franzen used to be considered part of the hyper-literate, hysterical realism crowd. There's still pieces of that, but this work is less overt and flashy. This one seems to have pieces of Conrad, Tolstoy and Dickens. You get the feeling that he spent ten years with an enormous amount of material that he probably loved and wanted to keep, but with his improved self-restraint he boiled it down to this singular novel-- though I wouldn't be surprised if the other material resurfaces in later works.
I find it difficult with this one to see why people would be turned off. With the Corrections, you literally have to get to the last third before you start to identify in any way with the characters. Here, it's both classic storytelling and also relevant, and also has its postmodern-meta-textual-renderings -bits of its story.
I can even see this as a retelling of War and Peace -- family dynasties, Quixotic missions, the redemption of love, generational conflict, going to war foolhardily and getting burned by that, the consolation of domestic life after being wounded by a more turbulent love. Also, there is very much the main question of WAR AND PEACE, and that is : how much can any one person really affect history? If you can, what do you do? And if you can't, then what's left to do?
So it's no surprise that this book mentions that several times in different areas of it, and so glowingly : the best novel Patty'd ever read, maybe. I like the line, ''he was jealous of her being able to devote herself totally to it''. In that instance I thought of my Peace Corps friend Pete that read W&P in a fever of a week! Having read it just as absorbed over the span of a month in 2009, I'm now rereading W&P very slowy, ten pages a day, and now I'll have the world of FREEDOM in my mind to compare the themes and situations in it, and maybe get more out of each one.
**Don't forget there are a lot of JF interviews on Charlie Rose's site, including one with him and DFW mercilessly picking apart the contradictions of the third interviewee....more