I've been friends with Howard Junker since we were schoolboys in Chappaqua. So I'm happy to report Howard has a fine review of Jonathan Franzen's new blockbuster Freedom.
In this morning's blog, Zyzzyva Speaks, Junker says Freedom is "unreadable" Starting, he says, with the opening paragraph.
"The news about Walter Berglund wasn't picked up locally—he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now—but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New York Times."
I contributed a memoir to Howard's litmag, Zyzzyva, a couple of years ago. So I've worked with Howard and I know he's a fearless, ferocious and superb editor. One of the very best.
Howard is happy to head butt The New York Times which ended its plodding review of Freedom. "in creating conflicted, contrarian individuals capable of choosing their own fates, Mr. Franzen has written his most deeply felt novel yet — a novel that turns out to be both a compelling biography of a dysfunctional family and an indelible portrait of our times."
No one ever accused me of writing "an indelible portrait of our times." Although I took a shot with a story of a teenage Native American Ohlone Indian and his black girlfriend. The wannabe gangstas and their two friends hold a wealthy suburban family hostage for ransom, wear the suburban kids clothes as camouflage and begin to take on suburban personalities.
Here's my opening to Family Values, with the boy and the girl lying across the hall from each other in a hospital:
Out of all their dreamy laws of life and the universe, remember two. Remembering is a dream, they said. All dreams, they said, are real.
Remembering is a dream as real as the night buzz of fluorescent lights in a hospital corridor. As real as the squeak of nurses white shoes coming and going, dragging shadows past a boy's open door. The boy waiting for their squeak, squeak, squeak to fade and disappear.
As real as the pain stabbing through the drowsy curtain of drugs when he rolled out of the bed, unable to stand for a while. Drowsy as an old man from the drugs they gave him, the nurses faces shocked and concerned; a little boy with broken ribs, kicked in the face like that.
When he crossed the river of linoleum to see her, the girl was hunched over on her side, knees drawn up and head down. She didn't move when he stood inches from her face, her eyes open but not looking at him, not even turning away. She was too tired to move; the only thing moving in her was the wondering what he was going to do to her. Like she was curious but she didn't care. She didn't care at all. What she was feeling was dirty, used and empty as a cup nobody wash.
He knew she was awake, he'd heard her crying across the hall. He lifted up the sheet and covers, climbed into her hospital bed behind her. He lay still, not touching her. Listening to her breathe.
First thing he said was, "way back in like the beginning of the world there was no light. Nothin. Not even a spark."
She could relate to that.