For a few weeks now I've been telling myself that I will buy Jonathan Frazen's new book Freedom when it came out. Before all the hype about this book I didn't know who Frazen was, but that doesn't mean anything. I don't know who half the well-known people are. Then he started showing up. First, on the cover of Time magazine sometime in July, while I was at the airport. The profile story focused on this latest novel of his, how he went about it and how he is the current great American novelist. There he was again in a New York Times article about his long-awaited novel -- it's been something like 12 years since his last novel -- and how booksellers and publishers couldn't wait for it to come out, and how it has all the makings of a No. 1 bestseller. I just gotta read it.
All well merited, I will add.
Before the movie came out and without reading the book, I had relegated it to a category somewhere between fluffy exploration and entertaining chick lit. Last night I found myself in the store, peeking. I decided I couldn't read the whole thing furtively, so I dished about $15, took it home and delved into it more. Entertaining it is, but it has all the fluffiness of a juicy filet mignon.
Reading her I feel delivered with an honest, intelligent, informed, elucidating account of a journey that is one sole woman's journey, but for the telling, she takes in so much of the world and history and other people's experiences, that it becomes more, much more.
Which brings me back to Frazen and his Freedom. So I'm at the bookstore, I have it in my hand, the hardcover (it's not on paperback yet), some 600 pages. I look at it. I remember from Time's profile piece how he writes in complete solitude, on a bare desk, without even the Internet, and has been at that year after year for more than a decade, one of his few distractions that of watching birds. I remember reviews to the effect of how Freedom is a piercing look at our middle class existence and how that existence doesn't really makes us freer or better at making choices, but not choices as in what flavor to choose, no, choices and freedom in the existential sense, and I already feel my soul 100 pounds heavier. I remember also learning from the profile that fellow writer, David Foster Wallace, his buddy, committed suicide in his forties, after he had published Infinite Jest, which also had huge success. I open the tome in my hand and I read lines that are..I don't know how to describe it...it's prose that I'm not ready for, it's intimidating in some way.
I had heard Frazen himself the night before in a National Public Radio interview, and he sounded amicable and light and he expressed regret that his novel could result depressing, and made himself responsible as a writer if readers fail to see the change his characters undergo in the story, a change I now presume is redeeming. I liked the way the guy came across.
So, Jonathan, here's where I am: I will read you, I want to, I have a feeling your stuff is good, and not just because of the hype. But I'm not ready yet. I'm getting there. I'll get there. For whatever it's worth, know that nothing I've read about your path to success has made me "hate" you. And Elizabeth, I'm beginning to absolutely love you.