Meet the Lamberts, and go home for Christmas this year.
Chip - Golden boy, prick of a brother, and a pedophile
Denise - Home-wrecker, chef, sexual deviant
Gary - Family man + hater of his family = depression
Enid - Oppressed Midwestern wife, just wants one more Christmas in St. Jude
Alfred - Pater familias, dementia stricken, hero
I know that Mr. Chilton has read, reviewed and dismissed this novel. I have found it worthy, and I look forward to reading the next book with which Chris finds fault. Franzen has a style that isn’t his alone, but he has mastered it. I’m not a lover of the sentence. And I don’t like reading authors that put massive amounts of importance on each sentence they write. Franzen lets his prose flow like the true storyteller he is. The dialogue is real and believable. Each of the Lambert’s has their novella woven together in a page-turning family drama. Franzen makes the reader root for each of them, but all of them are less than admirable characters. I hope to read Freedom this year. What follows requires a spoiler alert, but seeing as most have already read it…
Chip is considered a wise, focused, and free child that was born during the good times of the Lambert history. In reality he is a failure. He can’t have a healthy relationship, he can’t keep a job, and he’s writing a screenplay that will forever be rejected due to his motivation for writing it: revenge. The entire family respects him though, and this affords him endless love and admiration. He accomplishes this by never telling them the truth, but even if he tried to tell the truth the parents and siblings would find a way to turn his admission into a positive. I love Chipper, he is doomed, but there is hope for that screenplay after all.
Denise is the confused youngest child and only daughter. She makes poor sexual decisions throughout her story and each ruins someone’s life. Her virginity is taken by an older, married man that is a subordinate to her father at work. Her first marriage springs from a work relationship but ends in lesbian exploration. And her ultimate relationship in the story consists of a heterosexual married couple; she fucks them both. Denise does have a conscious, and I love Denise, but she is a home-wrecker and disappointment to all she touches. A damn fine chef, and there is always a need for sustenance.
Gary is my least favorite of the five. All he loves becomes all he hates. He is spiteful and not the least bit redeeming. His depression affects his marriage and relationship with two of his three boys. An effort to appease his mother by showing up for Christmas only results in his judgment of the status of her existence and his father's decline.
Enid is taking care of Alfred. She hates her responsibility and needs help. Her lack of culture is masked by a love of Europe, but she only loves what she cannot have and there is little optimism for how her life will turn out. She sees her family creating their own lives as a sign to make one last effort at a family Christmas, a holiday that for her is a symbol of happiness from a time she wishes she could return.
Alfred is a hero. He is losing his mind to Alzheimer’s, but he takes care throughout his life to do the right thing. His depression comes from his inability to do things for himself. Early in life he finds release by experimenting in his basement. Late in life he finds freedom by napping in a chair. His quiet sadness is a hallmark of his generation. Never complain. Always support. He is my own grandfather and father wrapped in one.