Firstly, and most importantly, I just want to comment that, even though this book ends at Christmas, none of the characters are in any way thinking about Christmas (with the possible exception of Enid). I'm not trying to say that just because it's Christmas, no one should have any troubles and everyone should just be constantly eating turkey, but not one of the characters is excited, or humming jingle bells, or doing any of that good sweet Christmas stuff they should be doing. Try telling me it's because they're all grown ups, and I will punch you because Christmas is aweeeeesome and always will be.
Try some singing, Lamberts.
Actually, I've just remembered the carollers, and that one bit where Chip arrives. THOSE were pretty Christmassy. But that's it.
- Gary- Gary is kind of a terrible human being. I know, I know, his wife sucks. But you know who married his wife? Gary did. Because he ALSO sucks. I can't even, with the stringing Enid along about Jonah, and oh hey, you owe me $5, mom; and also did I mention that I invested in that company that sort of short changed my dad and am making a mint off of it? Oh yeah, and remember when I said I was depressed? Turns out I was just an asshole! Fucking Gary. Above all things, though, I hate this about him the most: "It frustrated him that people could so happily drop out of the world of conventional expectations; it undercut the pleasure he took in his home and job and family; it felt like a unilateral rewriting, to his disadvantage, of the rules of life." Firstly, Gary, comparison is the thief of joy, so, you might want to work on that. Secondly... You wife is a sociopath, your kids don't like you so much, how's that conventional life working out for ya? Oh yeah, I don't care.
- Denise- I don't know if it's just because her narrative came straight after Gary's which, trust me, was a welcome break, but I feel a lot more positive towards Denise now. Actually, it's not that uncomplicated- I hate that now she's allowed to have Robin she doesn't even want her anymore, and what was with that domestic violence thing? But, still, Denise seems to see people better than any of the other characters, to realise the things that they want and need AND- more importantly- she tries to help them get them. Like an ultimately good person would do. She tries, anyway.
- Chip- Oh, Chip. Has he redeemed himself? It's basically impossible to forget what an absolute dick he was at the start, but... Looking after his parents! A wife! Twins! Moving to Chicago! And, maybe most importantly, realising that his script (and, by extension, his life) is/was not a thriller but a farce. I don't know- if it's possible to forgive a character for the bad things they did/were, then I think I did that with the knowledge that he stayed in St Jude for SIX WEEKS, sacrificing the image he had of himself in the process and, just maybe, becoming better. In my brain sequel, Gary's kids are as messed up as these three, but Chip's twins are fine, but that's just me.
- Alfred- I don't really know what to say about Al. He's been tyrannical, distant, hugely racist, and helped to mess up three human beings, but he's also a sick old man who can't tell his left from his right any more. The main feeling left behind from his character is of never ever wanting to grow old in such an undignified, and yeah, upsetting way. Fuck this shit: "The clarity to think and the power to act were still vivid in his memory. Through a window that gave onto the next world, he could still see the clarity and see the power, just out of reach, beyond the window's thermal panes."
- Enid- I don't really know what to say about Enid. On the one hand, yay for standing up for gay rights, on the other... I'm really uneasy about her 'correcting' Al. I get it- she's put up with all his bullshit for YEARS, has been his caregiver for the past few, and now it's time for her to get her own back. Ok, fine, BUT the man who did all the bad things to her isn't even there anymore, so really she's just taking it out on a sick person. I am happy about her eventual freedom, only... I'm not so sure she has it in her to use her last years in a good way. But hopefully I'm wrong.
Sorry, that was really long!
Just one more thing and I'll leave you be. I found this really really interesting:
"He'd lost track of what he wanted, and since who a person was was what a person wanted, you could say that he'd lost track of himself."The reason I find this interesting is, IS a person what they want? Are we just bundles of desires, making decisions that satisfy our most pressing current want, or is there more to us than that? I'm not even sure I know what I think about it, but I think what Franzen thinks is... Yes, we are more than a grouping of wants, because what we also are is what we are to other people. Even if we don't know what we want anymore, there's still the essential facts of where we came from and people who know us and a whole lot more than just wanting stuff like horrible little capitalists. I understand why Chip thinks people are what they want, but I think he's wrong.
Nooooo Laura, how'd you get sucked into the "hey everyone's sorted and better even though nothing happened to change them" garbage? :(ReplyDelete
The Alfred stuff really annoyed me in this section. Al being sick is such a bullshit reason to just forget everything he did. Sure you can put it to the side and focus on helping him in his last days, but it annoyed the shit out of me that suddenly it was "oh he wasn't abusive, he just couldn't express love the normal way". But Enid's behaviour at the end also left a bad taste in my mouth. Abusing someone who abused you isn't getting even, it's just going to make you feel worse later on. So basically no one has "corrected" themselves at all, they've just discovered a new mask to cover their old rubbish souls with.
*Sigh* I'm glad that's over.
Kayleigh, here's what I think it was: The characters were so awful and made me lose so much faith in human nature that I wanted to believe in Christmas miracles. ALTHOUGH- I would happily argue that a lot of Chip's self was just layers of overeducation that made him into a prick (which is not a prerequisite of a phD, OBVIOUSLY ily) and a combination of tiredness and christmas and being needed just kind of peeled the layers of awful off of him and made him, you know, less of a dick.Delete
It's a tricky Al and Enid thing though, because it's like 'UGH, don't forget how terrible he was' but then it's also like 'but don't be so AWFUL to him, either' and it's like what do we dooooo? I mainly came out of it blaming Al for ruining 4 people (not including himself cause he was already ruined for some reason) but what if they can correct themselves now he's dead, Kayleigh? WHAT THEN?
I am fairly glad it's over. Looking forward to donating the damn book too!
See I feel like I'd be a lot more forgiving if they mentioned they were working on fixing themselves instead of it magically happening because Al went to a nursing home. A mention of marriage counseling for Gary and Caroline or something more about Denise. It was just too clean an ending after hundreds of pages of disfunctions.Delete
And I would only have been ok with a Christmas miracle if Mr Hankey was involved.
I see your point. But, I mean, that doesn't mean it wasn't happening! But tbh, by the end of the book I wasn't like 'oh good, Denise and Gary are sorted', it's sort of just Chip who's doing ok/not being such a dick (and TWINS, Kayleigh! Twins! Sorry...)Delete
MR HANKEY WAS NOT NEEDED IN THIS.
Awww, Chip is your version of the Grinch.Delete
I have not seen/read The Grinch Who Stole Christmas! But he turns out good in the end, huh? That's cool :)Delete
Woah, woah, woah now... For someone who professes to love Christmas, how have you never seen or read The Grinch? It's so wonderful.Delete
Wait, HOW have you not see the Grinch? Or read it? This is...you need to fix that.Delete
I'm glad you came away from this book with more than just an "EVERYONE IS TERRIBLE AND I JUST DON'T CARE." Still don't have any plans to read it myself, though.ReplyDelete
I mean... everyone IS terrible and I definitely don't care anymore, but Franzen did get to me a little bit. :) I fully support your not reading this, especially because it's totally been spoilered now! All of it! Spoiled!Delete
I hate Gary. I didn't hate Gary before this section. Now I do. I think he's so miserable and terrible and pissed about people being happy with their "unconventional" lives because he's doing EXACTLY what he was told to do to be happy. And he's not. Because he's terrible and he married a terrible woman and now Jonah is ruined and it's not fair.ReplyDelete
I didn't mind Enid "correcting" Al when he was in the hospital. Yes, she was taking out her frustrations on a sick person that wasn't even really her husband anymore. But she couldn't take out her frustrations on him before. If she could have, she would have been doing it. I sort of saw it as before, when Al was in full form, she couldn't go to him with any of this, so all her tension radiated out to everyone else. Once Al was gone (not dead but just not him) and in the hospital, it was like that frustration was burning out. Sure, it's petty but I didn't really fault her for it.
I HATE GARY SO MUCH. I just can't stand it when people don't, like, challenge preconceived ideas and just think everyone should be the same as them even though they're so not happy and really they just want everyone else to be miserable and ARGH.Delete
I completely understand why Enid was 'correcting' Al, and I can't fully be like 'YOU EVIL BITCH', but I just don't think that in the long run it's the right way to go, and just from a personal viewpoint, I'd feel really horrible taking out my anger on a person with dementia. But then, I wouldn't be married to someone for like 50 years who was a complete asshole, so I don't even know what motivates Enid.
Ohhhh, Laura. You're such a nice person that you were sucked into Franzen's bullcrap :-)ReplyDelete
I just... HOW are people still defending Denise??? SHE HIT ROBIN. I feel like ya'll are going easy on her because she's a female - if it was a guy, he would be universally hated and the fact that he's "trying" to be a better person wouldn't matter so much. (I'm also not convinced she was really trying to be a better person... it was almost as if she decided to just stop fighting her bad decisions and just embrace them.)
Enid and Al are both so messed up. Al was a racist dick his whole life, so I don't feel TOO bad for him, but at the same time she seems to take way too much joy in torturing him. She could have left him during all those years, and she didn't, so she shouldn't take it out on him now that he can't defend himself. Oy.
I think it's great that you at least got something out of this book. Me... not so much. I was too rage-y to try to think too hard about any deep meanings.
Hahaha, I know, right? I'm a sucker for a slightly-less-terrible ending.Delete
Yeah, I don't... I find the fact that she hit Robin suuuuuper problematic, but at the same time I'm like ROBIN YOU ARE SO ANNOYING AND PASSIVE AND ARGH. But that doesn't mean she deserves to get hit, OBVIOUSLY. So yeah. Bad bad bad Denise. (ALTHOUGH- if a guy hit a woman ONCE and then was trying to be a better person, I would have less of a problem than I do with, say, Chris Brown. Just saying.)
Yeah, that whole situation is just NOPE. Staying way out of that. I understand how being mean to Al now would make Enid feel better, but I personally can't understand how she could do that, you know?
My rage definitely dissolved somewhat in this last part. Yeahhhh... I'm very forgiving, apparently.
Franzen got to you too?? I'm ashamed to admit that the part where Denise found out Alfred quit to protect her made me tear up a little.ReplyDelete
And UGH GARY IS THE WORST. That was the real twist ending -- that Gary turns out to be even worse than Chip in the end.
Maybe Franzen will write a sequel about Jonah and his struggle to find decency among the horde of sociopaths he was born into. I would readalong the shit out of that.