FREEDOM (Jonathan Franzen)
by Joseph Suglia
Patty Berglund is one of the good people. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her husband–his name is Walter Berglund–is also one of the good people. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, too. He is greener than Greenpeace. Then the Berglunds move to Washington, District Columbia, and Walter works for a man named Vin Haven, a big oil-and-gas guy. A Republican with ties to the Bush-Cheney regime. One of the conformists. One of the conservatives. One of the evil people.
Vin Haven’s a funny kind of person. He and his wife, Kiki, who is also evil, they, like, love birds and stuff. Vin got a lot of money by losing money on oil and gas wells in Texas and Oklahoma. He’s kind of old now, and so he’s decided to blow a lot of dough on the cerulean warbler, a songbird on the Endangered Species List. There’s a real healthy population of warblers in West Virginia and so to keep the bird off the List and garner some good press, Vin Haven has a dream: to build a cerulean-warbler conservatory in West Virginia and finish building the Pan-American Warbler Park in South America, which is below the U.S. That dream is Walter’s dream, too. And it can only come true through properly managed mountaintop removal–blasting mountain peaks so that coal-mining companies can mine coal. Walter believes in a Green Revolution–a revolution that would be painless to him.
In 2004, Walter starts working on an anti-population crusade. He struggles to get an intern. program going before the nation’s most liberal college kids all finalize their summer plans and work for the Kerry campaign instead. Even though he’s got kids, Walter wants to make babies an embarrassment because the planet’s overpopulated, like smoking’s an embarrassment, being obese’s an embarrassment, like driving an Escalade’s an embarrassment, like living in a four-thousand-square-foot house on a two-acre lot’s an embarrassment. The evil people just want to make more evil people.
The Berglunds’ son Joey moves in with the neighbors–who are really evil people–and eventually becomes a Republican war profiteer. One of the evil people.
Then there’s Richard Katz, Walter’s old friend from college. He’s a rocker and a roller, was in a band called The Traumatics, and he knows that rock ‘n’ roll ain’t nothing but the selling of wintergreen Chiclets, man, and ain’t it the truth. He’s not a real rebel, and he knows it. He’s a closet Republican, shilling merchandise, just like everyone else in the entertainment industry. A poseur. One of the evil people.
But at least Richard knows it, man. And gets sick of livin’ The Lie. So he gives up rockin’ and rollin’ and goes back to what he used to do, building decks. Back to doin’ the only honorable thing he can think of. He tries to become one of the good people.
* * * * *
Jonathan Franzen is to liberalism what Ayn Rand is to neo-conservatism. They are both doctrinaire writers who employ fiction as a means to an end.
Whether reactionary or liberal, ideologically charged fiction is sickly writing designed to proselytize. Its plot and characters are dependent on an easily identifiable political program. Jonathan Franzen is an ideologizer and a slick pseudo-literary entrepreneur.
Poetic language does not produce characters that are good or evil, politically right or politically wrong. It creates an imaginary world in which it is impossible to draw such easy distinctions.
* * * * *
When did writing stop having to do with writing? When novels became nothing more than precursors to screenplays.
It is time, and high time indeed, that American letters stopped having to do with propaganda, cinema, etc., and started having to do with writing again.