Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Freedom: A Novel, By Jonathan Franzen

Nine years after winning the National Book Award, Franzen's The Corrections consistently appears on "Best of the Decade" lists and continues to enjoy a popularity that borders on the epochal, so much so that the first question facing Franzen's feverishly awaited follow-up is whether it can find its own voice in its predecessor's shadow. In short: yes, it does, and in a big way.

Readers will recognize the strains of suburban tragedy afflicting St. Paul, Minn.'s Walter and Patty Berglund, once-gleaming gentrifiers now marred in the eyes of the community by Patty's increasingly erratic war on the right-wing neighbors with whom her eerily independent and sexually precocious teenage son, Joey, is besot, and, later, "greener than Greenpeace" Walter's well-publicized dealings with the coal industry's efforts to demolish a West Virginia mountaintop.

The surprise is that the Berglunds' fall is outlined almost entirely in the novel's first 30 pages, freeing Franzen to delve into Patty's affluent East Coast girlhood, her sexual assault at the hands of a well-connected senior, doomed career as a college basketball star, and the long-running love triangle between Patty, Walter, and Walter's best friend, the budding rock star Richard Katz. By 2004, these combustible elements give rise to a host of modern predicaments: Richard, after a brief peak, is now washed up, living in Jersey City, laboring as a deck builder for Tribeca yuppies, and still eyeing Patty. The ever-scheming Joey gets in over his head with psychotically dedicated high school sweetheart and as a sub-subcontractor in the re-building of postinvasion Iraq.

Walter's many moral compromises, which have grown to include shady dealings with Bush-Cheney cronies (not to mention the carnal intentions of his assistant, Lalitha), are taxing him to the breaking point. Patty, meanwhile, has descended into a morass of depression and self-loathing, and is considering breast augmentation when not working on her therapist-recommended autobiography.

Franzen pits his excavation of the cracks in the nuclear family's facade against a backdrop of all-American faults and fissures, but where the book stands apart is that, no longer content merely to record the breakdown, Franzen tries to account for his often stridently unlikable characters and find where they (and we) went wrong, arriving at--incredibly--genuine hope.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is an inspirational story of the hardships of World War II in the viewpoint of a 13 year old Jewish girl in hiding during The Holocaust. In her diary, Anne shares her thoughts, feelings and insights about the many issues and conflicts in the warehouse where her own family and another family hid for two years.

Anne's diary entries show her growing, maturing from a girl to a woman, and experiencing new emotions such as love and courage. Anne falls in love with the son of the family the Franks are hiding with and in him she finds someone she can trust and talk to.

Throughout her whole diary, Anne shows much courage by acting mature beyond her age and never complaining about the situation she is in. Anne's values and morals also change as she leaves her normal life at school with friends and goes into hiding and seclusion from the outside world. For example, since she can never go outside Anne finds a new love and appreciation for the beauty of nature. Throughout the book she shares her innermost thoughts and dreams. An example of this is when Anne says, "...my greatest wish is to become a journalist someday and later on a famous writer... I want to publish a book entitled Het Achterhuis after the war." Anne is always optimistic in the darkest situations by thinking of a bright future ahead of her.

Overall, Anne Frank's diary is an amazing story. It gives the reader and idea of what it was like for a teenage girl during World War II. It also educates readers on the events and circumstances during this time period. This is a great book and keeps the reader's attention not only because it is educational but also it is interesting to see how a young girl deals with such misfortunate circumstances.

Out of all age groups, this book would be the most suitable for teenagers because they could really relate to Anne and take with them a deep understanding of the hardships she underwent. In some ways this book can be comparable to To Kill a Mockingbird in the sense that there is a loss of innocence in both books. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem Finch grows and matures, as does Anne in her diary. In the end, Anne's diary comes to a close but her hopes and dreams will live on forever.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Where the God of Love Hangs Out, By Amy Bloom

Bloom's latest collection (after novel Away) looks at love in many forms through a keenly perceptive lens. Two sets of stories that read much like novellas form the book's soul; the first of which revolves around two couples—William and Isabel, Clare and Charles—and begins with Clare and William falling into an affair that endures divorces, remarriage and illness.

Bloom has an unsettling insight into her character's minds: Clare's self-disgust is often reflected in her thoughts about William, demonstrating the complexity of their attraction as their comfort with each other grows, until she finally accepts the beauty of what they have—albeit too late. The second set of stories, featuring Lionel and Julia, is more complicated; the death of Lionel's father propels Lionel and Julia together in a night of grief, remarkable (and icky) mostly because Julia is Lionel's stepmother and his father's widow.

As years go by, it is unclear whether Lionel's difficulties are due to that indiscretion, but watching Bloom work Lionel, Julia and her son through the rocky aftermath is a delight. The four stand-alone stories, while nice, have a hard time measuring up against the more immersive interlinked material, which, really, is quite sublime.