What. The. Fuck.
Thanks to Alley for hosting this readalong, because I sure as hell can't call this book boring. Just when I think the characters are all as despicable as possible and I'm not sure how much more I can handle, Franzen throws a curve ball in the way of a legitimite talking shit. A TALKING PIECE OF POO. WITH AN ARMY OF OTHER POOS. WHO HARRASS AL.
Franzen seems to be trolling us so hard in the middle of his goddamn "literary" fiction book about a dysfunctional family and A TALKING PIECE OF POO (seriously, I can't even). I mean, there are other sections which are a bit WTF (mostly when Franzen tries to get his literary on) but seriously, THERE ARE LIKE 10 PAGES DEDICATED TO A HALLUCINATION ABOUT POO ATTACKS.
If you had asked me what I expected from this book (and I guess Alley kinda did in the intro post) I never would have imagined it'd be stinky hallucinations. Characters acting like colossal assholes yes, I saw that coming, but this? I honest to god thought I was going mad and hallucinating the whole thing. I have 4 pages of notes about this section, but I just don't know if I can get past this. I mean I'll try, but how do you talk about the breakdown of two separate marriages when there's talking poo on the table?
Oh and Franzen, just a note, if you're going to write in a hallucination about a racist/misogynistic/Ayn Rand-uber-conservative talking poo, don't then get all coy and describe a toilet as 'ordure strafed'.
So how terrible are both Carline AND Gary? Every now and then I'd start to be like "fuck Caroline, god damn she's awful" and then Gary would do something bonkers like mutilate his hand while drunk and wrap a bread bag around it, and I'd be like "fuck Gary, he's legit insane". They're both the absolute worst, and they are dragging those poor kids down with them. At this stage my hope for this novel is that they have Christmas in St. Jude and during a tremor Al knocks over a candle and sets the house on fire and they all die. But the kids manage to live because they were outside playing soccer with Denise. Denise's survival all depends on how awful Franzen makes her in the next section, so it's possible the kids just have some kind of Peter Pan like existence where they go wild and then steal a girl to be their mum. They've already got the surveillance equipment.
The really annoying this is, Franzen keeps trying to give this back story to their childhoods to try and reason away why they're being so awful, but it's not just the Lamberts* that are awful, EVERYONE is. The Swedish people on the cruise are dogshit. The boss of Chip's married ex-girlfriend is a bitch. Al's old neighbour who bought stock on an inside tip is a jagweed. And I don't know if Franzen's whole point is to be like "look how shitty and depressed humans are, regardless of how they're brought up", but it's really starting to piss me off. Because that isn't real life. People aren't like this. People escape rubbish backgrounds and act like civilised human beings. People are brought up by abusive dads, or inattentive dads, or wacko obsessive mothers every single day, and they can't use that as an excuse to behave like escapees from Arkham Asylum. Because you know what, playing your kids against each other is fucked up. Buying your child surveillance equipment that they'll use for a week and then discard or not holding them responsible for breaking something (whether it's tacky or expensive is unimportant) is fucked up. Picking at your wife about her injury for weeks in order to ignore the real problem is fucked up. Refusing to go to your husband's family home for Christmas because of a promise he made 8 years earlier is fucked up. Throwing out the gift your mother-in-law gave you ON CHRISTMAS DAY WHILE THEY'RE STILL AT YOUR HOUSE is fucked up. Normal people don't do these things, hell, even crazy people don't do this. It's getting to the point that it isn't fun to read anymore. Chip's section was a real doozie, but at least we got to point and laugh at how pathetic he was while he was being a douche. Now I'm just getting angry all the time and this is turning into one of those books that I'm pretty sure I'll finish and then need to spend an entire day crying in a shower to feel clean again. This book is rough guys.
With all of that said, I don't entirely hate the book. I'm not enjoying it as much as last week, and it's definitely harder for me to motivate myself to read more than 10 pages at a time, but there are bright points. Like Sylvia. I'm not sure what I make of her and her story about a daughter being murdered (seriously, Franzen is the soapiest of literary authors) but there was something really great about the line;
"She wanted him dead despite even her realisation, in therapy, that his smirk had been a protective mask donned by a lonely boy surrounded by people who hated him, and that if she'd only smiled at him like a forgiving mother he might have laid aside his mask and wept with honest remorse"I also found the story about Enid and Al's marriage troubles, and Chip and Gary's various attempts to please their family compelling reading. I didn't like it as a way of explaining or rationalising their grown up behaviour, but it was well written and well constructed. There's that passage (and I can't be bothered finding it, but Other Kayleigh took a photo of it on her instagram) when Chip's at the dinner table for so long that Enid's speech just becomes the various grammar components, and I really liked that. I liked reading from Enid's perspective "he came home and didn't even kiss me and now he's in his lab, what an asshole" and then switching to Al "I've been in here for 3 hours with the lights out, what the F woman" because that felt like the kind of stubborn reactionary actions I could see snowballing into a marriage that endures but continues to fester for 40 years. There are so many bits to this book that I like, but Franzen is so heavy handed and just seems so angry himself that the book as a whole just isn't working properly.
So I'm a little nervous about the next section because it must be time for Denise right? We've had such tiny little glimpses at her, and so far she seems to be pretty sensible and level-headed. She also seems to be the primary recipient of her family's ire. Al obviously worships her (which is, I'm sure, a large part of Enid's issue with her), but both Chip and Gary have some weird Freudian obsessions with her. There was the satiny pecs note from Chip last week when she featured in that magazine, and this week we had Gary stressing out about her "naked legs" when they went to that pharmaceutical investment meeting. It's super weird.
Also, has anyone made sense of the medical stuff thus far? We have the potentially patent-infringing PD cure and Enid's lion pills (that scene with the cruise doctor was super-bonkers) and I can't really make sense of what Franzen is trying to say here. Is he against pharmaceutical advancements? Big Pharma? Capitalism? Investments? Advertising? Shilling for investors? The legally drugged out upper-middle class? Why two scenes of such dense and boring and borderline insane medical jargon so close together?
Anyway, I expect we've got a whole lot more insanity waiting for us next week. But guess what! We're two thirds of the way to finishing this book!
*The Lamberts thing is throwing me for a loop because of Breaking Bad. These assholes don't deserve to use that name.