God bless writers who take the appropriate amount of time to ease into their next book after their previous was an knockout hit. Franzen’s first foray back into his readers’ clutches nine years since The Corrections stole our hearts and minds (and the National Book Award). Much different than Elizabeth Gilbert’s attempt to jump back on the horse and flail about (Committed rings flat verses her wildly popular Eat Pray Love).
I had a bit of out-of-body experience, watching myself not particularly into the characters until Franzen skilfully guided me into caring for each one. Walter was a cardboard cutout at the beginning, and then Franzen imbued him with vitality, humor, intelligence.
The story revolves around Walter and Patty, a couple in their 25th year of marriage, fixing up their St. Paul Victorian, raising 2 children (Jessica and Joey), but dives deep into the past with Patty’s autobiographical therapy manuscript, Mistakes Were Made. Patty, a collegiate basketball player, was in love with Richard, Walter’s roommate, and used Walter to get to Richard. On the brink of being spurned by Richard during a road trip in Chicago, Patty hurries back to Walter’s arms and they are married within the year. Two kids pop out, Patty a stay at home mom, great with kids but not so fantastic with adolescents. She lets Joey do whatever he pleases, which ends up in his leaving the house to move in with his girlfriend and her family next door (Connie). Jessica is the perfect daughter. By the end of the book, the reversal of affections has completed, with Joey & Walter getting along, and Jessica & Connie closer than ever.
Patty has a run-in with Richard years later, 3 indiscrete acts, which Walter finds out about when Richard leaves Patty’s memoir on his desk. This frees Walter up to pursue Lalitha, the beautiful 25 year old Indian woman who is his assistant and madly in love with him. He goes nuts in an anti-growth rant, discovers that he is a folk hero to the anarchists out there, does his tour of awareness for OverPopulation, camps with Lalitha across the country. Tragically, Lalitha dies in a car wreck in West Virginia.
My mind is still whirling, it is impossible to capture this book in a synopsis.